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WA child contracts deadly meningococcal disease

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A child has been diagnosed with meningococcal disease and is recovering in hospital, WA Health has confirmed.

The child is the 11th meningococcal case reported in the State so far this year.

The latest case, revealed by health officials on Wednesday, involves the serogroup W variant of the disease.

The case was reported just a day after a two-year-old in South Australia died from the B strain of the illness.

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Of the 11 cases in WA this year To date in 2022, six were serogroup B, three were serogroup W, and two were serogroup Y.

The life-threatening illness is caused by a bacterial infection of the blood and/or the membranes that line the spinal cord and brain, and occasionally the throat, lungs or large joints.

Health officials stressed the disease was uncommon.

“Meningococcal bacteria are not easily spread from person-to-person,” a spokesperson said.

“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 to 20 per cent of the population at any one time. Very rarely, the bacteria invade the bloodstream or tissues and cause serious infections.

It is important that anyone with these symptoms seeks medical attention urgently

“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.

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“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 with these symptoms seeks medical attention urgently,” the spokesperson added.

“With appropriate treatment, most people with the disease recover, although around 5 to 10 per cent will die and around 15 per cent may experience long-term complications such as hearing loss, limb amputations or brain damage.”

Children can be protected by being vaccinated against the disease

There are two types of meningococcal vaccines available: one protects against four serogroups of the meningococcal disease (serogroups A, C, W and Y) and the other protects against serogroup B.

The latter vaccine is offered free to all children at 12 months of age. It is also offered to all Year 10 students, with a free catch-up program for 15 to 19 year-olds.

The B strain vaccine is free for all Aboriginal children aged up to 2 years of age.

People not eligible for free vaccines can request them through their immunisation provider for a fee.

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