22 February 2018

Canberra high school students receive free vaccine to protect against Meningococcal disease

| Lachlan Roberts
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Free vaccine

Free meningococcal vaccines rolled out to year 10 students.

Kaleen High students were among the first in the ACT to receive a free vaccination on Wednesday (21st February), protecting them against four strains of a potentially fatal disease.

The school-based vaccination program provides one dose of the ‘MenACWY’ vaccine to year 10 students on an ongoing basis, which provides protection against the meningococcal A, C, W and Y strains.

ACT Health announced the rollout of the free vaccination program last year after a rise in the numbers of meningococcal cases across Australia.

Meningococcal disease is an acute bacterial infection that can cause death within hours if not recognised and treated promptly.

According to Meningococcal Australia, the disease can appear as meningococcal septicaemia (blood poisoning) or meningococcal meningitis and in some cases, can be both.

Some of the symptoms can include fever, neck stiffness, severe headache, sensitivity to bright lights, vomiting, joint or muscle pain, drowsiness or a rash.

The distinctive meningococcal rash, which indicates bleeding into the skin, can be a critical symptom of deadly septicaemia, along with a high fever. The rash may start with a simple spot or blister anywhere on the body, then may progress quickly to red pinpricks like small mosquito bites, and/or spread quickly into purple bruise-like blotches.

Though the meningococcal disease is uncommon in Australia, it is wise to be cautious, with the disease most common in children less than five years of age and in those aged 15-25 years.

Meningococcal Australia warned that it is important not to wait until a rash appears before seeking treatment, as the meningococcal rash signifies a critical stage of the disease.

During semester one, the School Health Team will be visiting high schools across the ACT to provide the vaccines to year 10 students.

A free catch-up program is also available until the end of 2018 for all people aged between 16 and 19 years. Adolescents in this age group can receive the vaccine as a catch-up dose through their GPs.

ACT Health’s chief health officer Dr Paul Kelly said older teenagers and young adults are at increased risk of meningococcal disease and are most likely to spread the disease to others.

“Meningococcal disease is a rare but serious bacterial infection. In Australia, the main strains of bacteria that cause meningococcal disease are B, C, W and Y. This disease can cause meningitis (infection of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord) and/or bacteraemia (infection of the blood), which are both severe infections that may lead to permanent disability or death.”

“In recent years, rates of invasive meningococcal disease caused by meningococcal W and meningococcal Y strains have increased across Australia. Meningococcal W is associated with a higher fatality rate, compared with other strains circulating in Australia.

“This new program will protect ACT adolescents and the community from the emerging public health threat posed by meningococcal W disease. It is essential for young people and our community to understand that the best way to prevent meningococcal disease is by getting vaccinated.” Dr Kelly said.

For more information about the disease, click here.

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