Meningoccocal, hepatitis outbreak health services offer gay and bisexual men free vaccine

UPDATE 1.40pm: An additional free vaccination program for Victorian men who have sex with men, this time to combat an outbreak of hepatitis A. 

There have been 27 cases related to this outbreak in the past nine months. 

All cases are male, with many reporting sexual activity with other men. Some people who injected drugs have also been detected with the disease.  

​To help stop the spread, deputy chief health officer Brett Sutton today a free, two-dose course of hepatitis A will for gay and bisexual men in Victoria, as well as those who have injected drugs in the past 12 months. 

The vaccine will be freely available between January 22 to December 31. 

“Immunisation saves lives and protects others in the community,” Dr Sutton said. 

“It is important that all eligible people get the free hepatitis A vaccine to stop the spread of this serious disease.” 

Hepatitis A is spread through person-to-person transmission, including sexual activity, and is not limited to gay and bisexual men. 

Transmission can also occur through sharing needles and through the consumption of contaminated food and water. 

Bathing after sex can help stop the spread of hepatitis A, as can condom use. Food handlers  

“We also strongly advise any confirmed cases with hepatitis A against engaging in any sexual activity that could increase the spread of the virus,” Dr Sutton said.  

Since 2016, hepatitis A outbreaks have occurred in 16 European cities and across the United States. 

A similar outbreak was reported in New South Wales in 2017. 

Because it took between 15 to 50 days for symptoms to develop, Dr Sutton asked those who handle food, or work in health and childcare, to be vaccinated. 

Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, followed by dark urine and discoloured skin.  

“Vaccination is safe, effective and provides the best protection against serious diseases. I urge all MSM to get all four free vaccines without delay,” Dr Sutton said. 

EARLIER: An outbreak of meningiccocal in Victoria’s population of gay and bisexual men has seen a free vaccine against four strains of the disease rolled out across the state.

Bendigo Community Health Services is among the sites now offering the vaccine, which is freely available until June 30.

General practitioners are also able to deliver the vaccine. 

The health alert was issued in December after eight cases of the disease were confirmed in same-sex attracted men from Melbourne.  

Clusters of meningoccocal have previously been detected in the gay communities of Berlin, Paris, Chicago and Los Angeles.

BCHS men’s health nurse Peter Strange said the disease was uncommon – Victorian health department statistics showed 87 cases were detected in the last year, just three of which were in the Loddon Mallee region.

But the disease could quickly become life-threatening.

Meningoccocal symptoms include intense headaches, nausea, vomiting and neck stiffness.

Meningitis and sepsis are common consequences, which can progress rapidly and causes death in up to 10 per cent of cases.

“It can be very nasty so obviously we want to prevent that,” Mr Strange said. 

The vaccine would be offered to clients of the newly established Pronto! clinic, a rapid HIV and sexually transmitted disease testing service for same-sex attracted men. 

The clinic runs every second Thursday evening at BCHS.

Mr Strange said uptake of the clinic’s services was gradually increasing as gay and bisexual men grew more comfortable to seek sexual health care in their own community.

“It's a very private area, a confidential area,” he said.

“To go to a service that they feel comfortable with, that's really important.

“Otherwise - people just tend not to go.

“Hopefully over the next three to six months, there will be more people engaged in good sexual health practice.”