Meningococcal disease is an illness that caused by a gram negative bacteria Neisseria meningitides. It tends to cause two different illnesses – meningitis and sepsis.
Meningitis is inflammation of the covering of the brain (called the meninges). Its’ symptoms include fever, headache, neck stiffness sensitivity to light (photosensitivity), nausea and vomiting.
Sepsis is when a bacterial infection spreads through the blood. Symptoms can include aches and pains, light-headedness, joint pains, nausea and vomiting. In many cases patients go on to develop a rash that does not blanch with pressure (a “petechial rash”) but this is not always the case, especially in the early stages of illness.
Meningococcal disease is deadly unless caught very early. The biggest problem with catching this illness early is that its initial symptoms can be easily confused with the common viral flu.
Vaccines against meningitis
There are 13 different types of meningococcal bacteria. Luckily only 5 cause the majority of disease.
A B C W(135) Y
Children already receive a meningococcal C vaccination with their standard childhood vaccinations in Victoria (Menitorix)
Meningococcal B is the next most common cause of meningococcal disease. For several years a vaccine called “Bexsero” has been available. It is effective and we generally recommend it for all children. It is unfortunately not funded by the government. The price is generally $100 – $120 per dose (from your local pharmacy), and dependent on age up to 3 doses may be required.
The next most common strains to cause problems in Australia are A, W(135) and Y. These are generally combined in a shot of “ACW(135)Y”. Several brand names for this exist – mainly Menactra, Menveo and Nimenrix. It is completely safe to have this shot even though you or your child may have already had Meningococcal C shot as part of normal immunisations.
Queensland, Western Australia and Northern Ireland (among many others) currently provide this immunisation for free as part of a standard regime. Currently Victoria does not. Speak to your doctor about the pros and cons of getting the ACWY shot for your child.