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Meningococcal disease by Dr Alison Soerensen

Meningococcal disease

Posted on 31st November, 2017 at 9:00 AM


Meningococcal disease occurs when a person becomes infected by a bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis.

Meningococcal disease occurs when a person becomes infected by a bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. Whilst it can be treated successfully with antibiotics, the disease often progresses very rapidly. In many cases, by the time antibiotics are given, significant damage has already occurred, resulting in long term disability and in up to 10% of cases, death.

To date, 13 subtypes of the bacteria have been identified, of which six (A, B, C, W135, X & Y) cause the majority of meningococcal disease seen throughout the world. Unfortunately, due to the differences between these subtypes, a single, universal vaccine is yet to be developed.

Up until the early 2000s, the most prevalent subtype of meningococcal in Australia was the C strain. In 2003, a vaccination against the C strain was added to the National Immunisation Program for all children at 12 months of age. As a result, we saw a dramatic fall in the number of cases of meningococcal disease caused by this strain.

In the years immediately following, the majority of meningococcal disease in Australia was attributable to the B strain. However over the past 4-5 years, particularly in WA, the W strain has become our predominant strain.


Vaccines

There are vaccines against both the B and the W strains however at this time, they are not part of the National Immunisation Program. In WA, the state government are currently funding the ACWY vaccine for all teenagers currently aged from 15-19. For all other children, parents may opt to privately fund these vaccinations. The total cost will depend on the number of doses needed (age specific) and the brand of vaccine used.. If you have private health insurance, you may be able to claim a rebate as these vaccines are often covered under travel medicine policies.

Children can be vaccinated against both the B strain from 6 weeks of age and the W strain from 2 months of age. The number of doses required and the brands which are approved for use varies between age groups.

If you’d like to know more, you can read this FAQ from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance - Meningococcal vaccines FAQ

If you’d like to discuss your individual circumstances, please make an appointment with one of our GPs. As a Travel Medicine Clinic, MMC generally has all the vaccines available for purchase directly from the practice.