Rising rates of meningococcal put health service into action

A NEW immunisation program has been introduced to protect Toowoomba and Darling Downs teenagers from a rare but serious form of meningococcal disease.

The Meningococcal ACWY Immunisation Program has been introduced to address rising rates of meningococcal disease due to meningococcal W bacteria recorded in Queensland in 2016.

There has been an alarming increase of the disease in Queensland, 31 cases were recorded in 2015, 45 cases in 2016 and already this year there have been 34.

Earlier this year a Toowoomba resident was successfully treated for meningococcal at the Toowoomba Hospital.

The Queensland Health immunisation program has been implemented in the region by the Darling Downs Public Health Unit to reduce the number of people developing this rare but very serious disease.

DDPHU director Dr Penny Hutchinson said meningococcal bacteria could cause meningitis, which is inflammation of the lining of the brain, and septicaemia which is blood poisoning.

"The meningococcal bacteria is divided into several groups, the most common being A, B, C, W and Y," she said.

"Older teenagers and young adults are more at risk of developing the meningococcal W disease and
carrying the bacteria in their nose and throat, posing a risk to others.

"The new immunisation program aims to vaccinate 15 to 19-year-olds against meningococcal W and the vaccine will be provided through the school immunisation program, local general practitioners or vaccine providers.

"Please note the school immunisation program will only offer the meningococcal W vaccination to students in Year 10 and this program is only running in 2017."

Dr Hutchinson said infants, young children, teenagers and young adults had the highest risk of contracting any form of meningococcal disease and not all groups of meningococcal bacteria causing disease could be prevented through vaccination.

"Meningococcal disease can be life-threatening but most people recover with early antibiotic treatment, so it is important that people with symptoms seek medical advice urgently," she said.

Symptoms of meningococcal disease include severe headaches, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, muscle pains, drowsiness or difficulty waking up, dislike of bright lights, convulsions or seizures, pale blotchy skin with or without a rash, and stiff neck.

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