15 May 2017

Take 12: Meningococcal as ‘Russian roulette’

Clinical Communicable Disease

The unlucky few who contract meningococcal disease each year dice with death

Around 30-40 people are diagnosed each year in Australia with this acute bacterial infection.

About 10% with meningococcal disease die, while a further 10% have significant long-term problems. These include learning difficulties, sight and hearing problems, liver and kidney failure, loss of fingers, toes and limbs and scarring caused by skin grafts, according to Meningococcal Australia.

While vaccines for all five strains of meningococcal disease are available in Australia, only the C conjugate vaccine is subsidised for all children at the age of 12 months as part of the free National Immunisation Program.

Meningococcal B vaccine and the combination vaccine, which protects against groups A, C, Y and W, are only available by private script.

“Meningococcal disease is sort of the flip side of something like flu where almost everyone get it but only a few people get really sick,” says Professor Peter McIntyre, a paediatrician and infectious disease physician and director of the National Centre for Immunisation at Westmead Children’s Hospital.

“Not many people get [meningococcal disease] but if you get it, it is almost invariably bad.

“So it’s that Russian roulette sort of question. Yes, it is rare but if you are unlucky enough to get it, it can be really nasty.”

In this video, Professor McIntyre discusses:

– What is the incidence of meningococcal disease in children in Australia?
– When are children likely to be exposed to meningococcal disease?