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Meningococcal disease death in a WA adult

The Department of Health today reported an adult has died in a Western Australian hospital from meningococcal infection (serogroup W). 

Meningococcal disease is an uncommon, life-threatening illness caused by a bacterial infection of the blood and/or the membranes that line the spinal cord and brain, and occasionally of other sites, such as the throat, lungs or large joints.

Three Western Australians died from meningococcal disease in 2019. Two were infected with the serogroup W type of the organism and one with serogroup B.

There were no deaths in 2018, but six people died from the infection in 2017 (all with serogroup W disease).

There were 25 reported cases of invasive meningococcal disease in 2019 – significantly down from the 41 cases notified in 2018.

Of the 25 cases this year, eight have been serogroup B, nine serogroup W, six serogroup C and two serogroup Y meningococcal infections.

A vaccine to protect against four serogroups of the meningococcal disease (serogroups A, C, W and Y) is offered free to all children in WA at 12 months and to all teenagers in Year 10.

Meningococcal bacteria are not easily spread from person-to-person. The bacterium is present in droplets discharged from the nose and throat when coughing or sneezing, but is not spread by saliva and does not survive more than a few seconds in the environment.  

Meningococcal bacteria are carried harmlessly in the back of the nose and throat by about 10-20 per cent of the population at any one time. Very rarely, the bacteria invade the bloodstream or tissues and cause serious infections.

Sometimes – but not always – symptoms may be accompanied by the appearance of a spotty red-purple rash that looks like small bleeding points beneath the skin or bruises.

Symptoms of invasive meningococcal disease may include high fever, chills, headache, neck stiffness, nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, confusion, and severe muscle and joint pains.

Young children may not complain of symptoms, so fever, pale or blotchy complexion, vomiting, lethargy (inactivity), poor feeding and rash are important signs.

Although treatable with antibiotics, meningococcal infection can progress very rapidly, so it is important that anyone experiencing these symptoms seeks medical attention promptly.

With appropriate treatment, most people with the disease recover, although around 5-10 per cent will die and around 15 per cent may experience complications such as hearing loss, or gangrene requiring skin grafts or amputations.

SOURCE: Dept of Health WA

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