Meningitis is a potentially deadly inflammation of the brain and spinal cord that can be caused by a virus, bacteria or other microorganisms including fungi.
Bacterial meningitis is the most aggressive form and can lead to permanent damage or death in 24 hours. Meningococcal B is the common cause of meningitis in Australia today.
Those surviving meningitis can be left with devastating long-term effects such as hearing loss or deafness, brain damage, cerebral palsy, learning difficulties, behavioural problems, memory loss and when septicaemia is involved, loss of limbs.
Meningitis is not easy to recognise in the early stages and the symptoms can be similar to those of the common flu. The main symptoms to look out for are fever, vomiting, headache, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, and drowsiness or altered consciousness.
Meningococcal disease (that can cause meningitis and/or blood poisoning) often presents with a fine rash that progresses to pinpoint spots that do not blanch under pressure and later to larger purple blotches.
The peak infant age group at risk of bacterial meningitis is six to 18 months. Overall about 50 percent of bacterial meningitis cases occur in children under the age of five years, and there is a second disease peak in adolescents and young adults 15-24 years of age.
Even with prompt diagnosis and treatment, approximately 10% of patients die and up to 20% or more sustain permanent damage and disability.
Since the early 1990’s Australia has led a global campaign in preventing the spread of meningitis by introducing vaccines on to the National Immunisation Program. In 1993 the Hib Vaccine was introduced, followed by the Meningococcal C vaccine in 2003 and Pneumococcal vaccine in early 2005. This has led to a greater than 90 per cent reduction in bacterial meningitis due to the strains covered in the vaccines.
Whilst these vaccines have helped to reduce the number of people affected by the disease there is still one killer strain at large. Meningococcal B. 9 out of every 10 meningococcal cases in Australia is caused by MenB.
A Meningococcal B vaccine has been submitted to the Therapeutic Goods of Australia for assessment.
If licensed this will be a big break in protecting families from one of the most common forms of bacterial meningitis in Australia. However the vaccine may not cover ALL the different strains, but could prevent future deaths and disabilities.
We ask the Federal Government to allocate money in its budget for the Meningococcal B vaccine so that every Australian child and adolescent has access to it on the National Immunisation Program and has a fighting chance of surviving this disease without any long term health problems.