The Meningitis Centre of Australia is part of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and is striving to eliminate meningitis in Australia by lobbying for vaccines and educating the community to be aware of the signs and symptoms. The Centre also provides support for families affected by the disease.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the fluid and membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.
There are three main types of meningitis infection
KNOW THE SYMPTOMS!!!!
Australia's last BIG step in helping to prevent the spread of bacterial meningitis is by approving a Meningococcal B vaccine, which is currently before the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Please sign our petition for the Federal Government to allocate funding for this life saving vaccine!
Last year more than 160 people were treated for Meningococcal B in Australia. If not treated promptly it can lead to permanent disability or death in 24 hours.
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25 Feb 2014
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A WATANOBBI family which almost lost a son to meningococcal disease has welcomed news of a boost to the immunisation program for the disease.
Meningococcal B vaccine will now be available as well as the meningococcal C vaccination.
Meningococcal B is the most common form of the disease in Australia, and 5 to 10 per cent of people don’t survive this sudden and severe disease with young children and adolescents most at risk. The vaccine is available by private prescription and is being considered for government funding.
The Central Coast was a hot spot for meningococcal earlier this decade when in 2003, three cases were reported in one week at one school.
Melissa and Russell Burrows learned first hand about the dangers of meningococcal disase when their then two-and-a-half year old son Lucas contracted meningococcal C last year.
It was a close shave for Lucas and one his parents won’t forget in a hurry.
Today he is a bundle of energy bearing just two nasty scars, but it could have been a very different story if Lucas had not had the meningococcal C vaccination when he was 12 months old.
“If he hadn’t been immunised, the doctors said he wouldn’t be here now,” Mrs Burrows said.
It was last April when Lucas fell unwell on a Sunday night.
“I thought it might have been a bit of food poisoning,” she said. “He had a high temperature, about 39.1, and I gave him Panadol, but he kept being sick.”
Pregnant at the time, Mrs Burrows decided to put Lucas in her bed and when they woke up at around 7am he was cold, but sweating.
“I thought this just doesn’t seem right,” she said. His parents thought it best to see a doctor just in case.
“Then I saw some very small dots on the back of his neck,” she said.
“Meningococcal had gone through my mind, and I had Googled it, but the pictures showed much more advanced cases.”
By the time she got Lucas to the doctors at 10am he couldn’t walk.
The doctor suggested they get to Wyong Hospital.
“As soon as they saw the rash, there were 10 or 15 people in the room and he was transferred to the emergency department where there were another 10 or 15 people, they were really on the ball.”
Lucas was flown to John Hunter Hospital and stayed in the intensive care unit for three days and a general ward for two weeks for antibiotic treatment.
“My advice to other parents is to definitely trust your instincts,” Mrs Burrows said.
“You know when something is not right.”DANGER SIGNS
Between 10 and 15 cases of meningococcal disease are notified to the Central Coast Public Health Unit each year.
Signs and symptoms do vary but the most common are severe headache, stiff or painful neck, sensitivity to light, vomiting, drowsiness and convulsion, shivering, cold hands or feet, severe pain in arms, legs, joints, spots or pin prick rash.
IT’S the hard-to-diagnose killer infection that terrifies parents around the country but the first comprehensive vaccine against Meningococcal B will go on sale today.
However, it will burn a $500 hole in family budgets with babies requiring four $125 vaccinations before age two to gain full protection.
Novartis Vaccines, which makes Bexsero, plans to apply for a government subsidy later this year and if it is approved the vaccine could become part of the childhood immunisation schedule.
The infection which targets children aged under five and young people aged 15-24 is hard to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to cold and flu.
Around 200 Australians a year contract it and it kills up to 10 per cent of its victims.
One in five of those who survive the infection suffer from devastating, lifelong disabilities such as brain damage, hearing impairment or limb loss.
There are five strains of meningococcal infection and a vaccine for Meningococcal C has been subsidised for years.
Meningococcal B is a much more common infection, however, responsible for 83 per cent of cases in Australia.
Sydney mum Amanda Whicker was seven months pregnant when she almost lost her two-year-old son Joshua to Meningococcal B in 2011 and was told he would never walk or talk.
A GP failed to diagnose the infection and it was only after her husband noticed a pin prick-like freckle that a nurse at Campbelltown hospital recognised the problem.
The University of California-Santa Barbara began vaccinations for meningitis on February 24. The vaccinations are welcome, but too late for UCSB lacrosse player Aaron Loy, whose feet were amputated after he contracted meningitis in November.
The reason Loy and other UCSB students hadn't already been vaccinated is because the federal Food and Drug Administration has delayed the vaccine's approval. In short, the FDA's policy is that the vaccine can't be deployed when doctors believe it could be most valuable (before an outbreak), but will approve its use when the vaccine is least helpful, after an outbreak has run its course for months.
Loy was one of four UCSB cases of meningitis B (MenB), a highly contagious and life-threatening bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. MenB strikes without warning and can cripple and kill victims in just 24 hours. About one in 10 people who contract the disease will die; one in five survivors will have permanent disabilities.
A year ago this month, a student at Princeton University was similarly diagnosed with MenB. After four confirmed cases, officials declared an official outbreak, which soon grew to eight cases, that might have been avoided if students had been immunized.
Unfortunately, MenB is the one form of meningitis for which there is no approved vaccine in the U.S., even though MenB was the cause of about one-third of the 500 meningitis cases reported in 2012.
Yet, a vaccine is available. The European Union, Australia and Canada all have approved use of a MenB vaccine. Likewise, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials stated during the Princeton outbreak that lab tests "confirm that the vaccine will help protect against the exact strain of ... bacteria that is causing the outbreak."
The FDA provided no detailed, scientific reason for why it is delaying final testing to approve the vaccine, but critics, such as former FDA scientist Henry Miller, see the agency as "Fanatically risk-adverse".
The FDA did finally approve the vaccine on the UCSB campus, but the lag from the first illness in November to the first vaccination on Feb. 24 remains troubling. Such an after-the-fact vaccination strategy should concern every parent across America.
The nation needs a comprehensive plan to address future meningitis B outbreaks, which are not limited to university campuses. As part of that plan, the FDA should immediately approve the widely used MenB vaccine for general use in the United States while final testing is allowed to go forward.
If the FDA continues to resist, Congress should intervene, empowering Americans to access the vaccine before outbreaks, when it might be useful in protecting lives, rather than months later when an overcautious health bureaucracy finally says it is OK.
Swiss drug maker Novartis says a second U.S. university is using its new vaccine against meningitis B.
Novartis said Monday that the vaccine, Bexsero, is being used at the University of California Santa Barbara until March 7 to help protect 20,000 students and staff after an outbreak.
The vaccine shot for the B strain of the meningitis bacteria is approved for use in Europe, Australia and Canada, but not yet for general use in the United States.
But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has now approved the use of Bexsero twice in response to outbreaks at U.S. college campuses. It is the first vaccine against the B strain of meningitis.
Princeton University says almost 5,300 people got the vaccine last year in an effort to halt an outbreak there.
A young boy is in a serious but stable condition in a Hunter New England hospital with a suspected case of meningococcal disease.
If confirmed it will be the first case of meningococcal disease in the Hunter New England Health region this year.
In 2013 there were 11 confirmed cases of meningococcal disease in the Hunter New England Local Health District. There were 9 confirmed cases in 2012, 15 in 2011 and 13 in 2010.
Close contacts of the patient will be prescribed clearance antibiotics. There are no links between this case and any previous cases.
Public Health Physician Dr David Durrheim said seeking medical attention quickly may prevent the development of serious complications.
"Meningococcal disease may be very severe and the community needs to be on the alert for its symptoms. If anyone suspects meningococcal disease, they should seek medical attention immediately," Dr Durrheim said.
Up to 10 per cent of patients with invasive meningococcal disease in Australia die as a result of the infection. The first symptoms of meningococcal disease may include pain in the legs, cold hands and feet and abnormal skin colour.
Later symptoms may include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights, nausea and vomiting, a rash of reddish-purple spots or bruises and drowsiness. Babies with the infection can be irritable, not feed properly and have an abnormal cry.
"Meningococcal infection does not spread easily. It is spread by secretions from the nose and throat of a person who is carrying it and close and prolonged contact is needed to pass it on. It does not appear to be spread through saliva or by sharing drinks, food or cigarettes," Dr Durrheim said.
He stressed that while meningococcal disease could be serious, in most cases, early detection and treatment resulted in a complete recovery.
The two main strains of meningococcal disease in Australia are the B and C strains. A vaccine is effective against the less common meningococcal C strain, but there is currently no Australian vaccine for the B strain of the disease. This means that young people who have had the meningococcal C vaccine should still be on the look out for symptoms.
"The number of cases of this rare disease has been falling over the past 10 years due in part to the success of the meningococcal C vaccination program," Dr Durrheim said.
"It's also important to be aware that the vaccine does not protect against the B strain of the disease, so watch out for the symptoms even if you have been vaccinated," he said.
Most cases of meningococcal disease are seen in infants, young children, teenagers and young adults, although people of any age can be infected.
The meningococcal C vaccine is recommended for all babies at 12 months of age and currently in NSW, free vaccine is provided for unvaccinated people up to 25 years of age.
Where suspected or confirmed meningococcal disease has been diagnosed, public health officials will arrange for information and clearance antibiotics to be provided to close contacts, like the other members of the person's household.
The purpose of clearance antibiotics is to eradicate any meningococcal bacteria the contacts may be carrying to prevent further transmission of the disease.
A young adult has become the first person in Western Australia this year to be diagnosed with the potentially deadly meningococcal disease.
The WA Health Department said on Tuesday the person was hospitalised last week but had since been discharged and was recovering at home.
The patient's closest contacts have also been informed and some have been given antibiotics to minimise the chance of the organism spreading.
Meningococcal disease is an uncommon, life-threatening illness caused by a bacterial infection of the blood or membranes that line the spinal cord and brain.
The department said its incidence had dropped in WA over the past decade from a peak of 86 cases in 2000 to about 20 to 25 cases a year.
There were 16 cases last year, the lowest number recorded in more than 20 years. More than half the cases were people aged under 19.
A vaccine to protect against the C type of meningococcal disease, which in the past was responsible for about 15 per cent of cases in WA, is provided free to one-year-old children.
THE Sunshine Coast has the lowest rate of fully vaccinated four-year-olds in Queensland at just 88.5 per cent, Queensland Health figures show.
That compares to the state's best performing region, the Central West, including Longreach, which has 100 per cent of four-year-olds receiving all their vaccinations.
Across the state, 92.1 per cent of four-year-olds have been fully vaccinated, leaving almost one in 10 children unprotected.
Queensland Health's communicable diseases unit senior director Sonya Bennett said a child's four-year-old vaccinations were particularly important to boost immunity against serious diseases, such as whooping cough and measles.
Dr Bennett said of the eight per cent of four-year-olds who remained unvaccinated, about a third had parents who were objectors to immunisation.
Parents of the other children generally supported vaccination but "for some reason'' were not getting them immunised.
"With one in 10 children not immunised, not only are they at risk, but they also put at risk others around them who can't be immunised or whose immune systems aren't working properly,'' she said.
"No-one wants to see a small baby too young to be immunised struggling to breathe with whooping cough or a little child admitted to hospital with measles or meningococcal disease.
The statistics tell us that the children of wealthy, educated parents have the best outcomes in life; socio-economic factors have long been reliable indicators on the likely future prospects and health of the next generation.
But there is one crucial area where that is no longer the case. Indeed, the children of some of the most privileged pockets of inner suburbia are the most disadvantaged when it comes to being protected against preventable illness and disease.
It is those exclusive enclaves of inner-city Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane that have some of the lowest immunisation rates in the country. The National Health Performance Authority figures identified 32 at-risk areas where vaccination levels were 85 per cent or lower in at least one age group.
Experts warn that those areas are susceptible to an outbreak of deadly contagious diseases that are entirely preventable. Indeed, any area where the rate of immunisation is below 93 per cent is considered hazardous. There are 77,000 Australian children who are not fully immunised; that's one in 12 one, two- and five-year-olds who are not fully protected.
In the City of Melbourne the figures are even more alarming, with one in five five-year-olds not fully immunised. Similar, deplorable results were recorded for the City of Stonnington, home to some of the country's most expensive real estate including Toorak, Armadale, Malvern, Kooyong and South Yarra.
These inner-city elites think they know better than medical professionals and have no qualms about putting not only their own children at risk but also the wider community, particularly newborns too young to be immunised. They'd rather listen to junk science promoted by crystal-worshipping crackpots and chanting hippies than conclusive medical evidence that proves vaccines are not linked to autism, no matter how much the anti-vaccers want them to be.
It is those same reckless types who are defying new laws in NSW designed to exclude unvaccinated children from childcare centres. A loophole in the legislation allows for children to be accepted if their parents claim a moral or philosophical reason for their failure to immunise their offspring.
The number of conscientious objectors has increased to more than 36,000 in Australia. One wonders what is the point of "no jab, no play" laws if parents are granted opportunities to sidestep the regulations. Anti-vaccers are committed to their idiotic cause with an almost religious fervour; if a loophole exists, you can be certain they will use it to avoid immunising their children.
The anti-vaccine movement is very much a Western phenomenon, a luxury that dumb but fortunate First World citizens can indulge given that vaccines have been so effective in all but eradicating horrendous diseases.
Professor Ian Frazer, inventor of the cervical cancer vaccine, says: "In the developing world there's no argument about vaccines because grandmothers tell their children what the diseases are like. In Australia, grandmothers have never seen the disease because vaccinations have been so successful."
SOME anti-vaccer crusaders are so zealous that they fight legal battles and subject their children to unnecessary medical tests to avoid vaccinating them. In recent years the Family Court has been repeatedly called upon to settle disputes between divorced parents fighting over whether their children should be immunised.
There will always be a minority who fall for any wild conspiracy they read on the internet but it is remarkable that so many educated professionals would rather listen to nonsense spouted by models and TV presenters instead of the advice of medical experts. Without doubt the most dangerous celebrity is Jenny McCarthy: she has been instrumental in bringing the anti-vaccer agenda into the mainstream in the US. The one-time Playboy bunny has been the poster gal for the movement since she was on Oprah and shared, unchallenged, her belief that vaccines can lead to children suffering autism.
She is a big part of the reason one in four Americans believes there is a link between vaccines and autism, despite hundreds of studies that say otherwise.
McCarthy is so passionate about the cause there are reports she is suing a media outlet that claimed, wrongly, she had "abandoned her controversial position on vaccines".
The anti-vaccine movement will be with us for as long as fools keep having children and putting their trust in pseudo-science instead of doctors. Education programs and awareness campaigns have been ineffective in changing the behaviour of this kooky mob who believe a vast conspiracy is at play to hide the dangers of vaccines. They are impervious to facts and figures. We have tried the carrot approach with government payments linked to children being fully immunised - perhaps it is now time to try the stick approach.
One can only hope that in the near future the Victorian Government introduces a version of NSW's "no jab, no play" laws but without the significant wriggle room allowing parents to avoid their responsibilities. It seems ludicrous that our children are afforded less protection than household pets; you can't leave a cat or dog at a kennel without an up-to-date immunisation record but you can send an unvaccinated child to school, kindergarten or childcare facility.
Join our petition to get the Federal Government to allocate funding for the Meningococcal B vaccine and put it on our National Immunisation Program.
There's good news for parents, with a new Meningococcal vaccine now available in Australia. Dr Ginni Mansberg explains.