Public health authorities are urging South West residents to take advantage of an immunization program designed to protect teenagers from a rare but serious form of meningococcal disease.
Darling Downs Public Health Unit Director Dr Penny Hutchinson said young people still had time to be vaccinated under the State Government-funded four-strain meningococcal ACWY Immunization Program.
“The State Government committed up to $6 million for a 12-month vaccination program this year following an increase in meningococcal serogroup W and Y notifications in 2016.
“The vaccine is available free for adolescents aged 15 – 19 years. There is a school program for Year 10 students until the end of 2017.”
“Other age groups and those who miss the school program can be vaccinated through their GP until 31 May 2018.”
Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning).
Dr Hutchinson says the vaccination covers the A, C, W and Y strains of meningococcal disease.
“Meningococcal W is an emerging strain that requires preventive action. It’s a very virulent strain and it’s on the rise in Queensland, so anything we can do to combat its rise is a good step.”
“Meningococcal Y is also on the increase in Queensland and this strain is also covered by this vaccine.
“Young adults are the most vulnerable to the transfer of bacteria which causes meningococcal disease, which is why it is so important for them to receive a vaccination.”
The take-up rates for this immunization program have not been as high as we would like in the South West.
Meningococcal disease is a severe infection that can lead to death or long-term health issues including limb deformity, deafness, epilepsy and possible loss of brain function.
While most people recover with early antibiotic treatment, about 10 per cent of cases are fatal.
Dr Hurtchinson says while there have been no cases of meningococcal disease so far, this year in the South West, prevention through immunization is always better than the cure.
“I encourage all 15 to 19-year olds to take advantage of this free immunization program.’’
Dr Hutchinson said meningococcal bacteria were carried harmlessly at the back of the throat or in the nose in about 10 per cent of healthy people at any given time.
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.