Confused about meningococcal vaccines? Don’t worry, you are not alone. It is pleasing to see so much media coverage of the dangers of meningococcal disease and information about vaccines, however, this can leave some parents confused about what their child has had and what they need.
So, what’s what?
Meningococcal disease is an acute bacterial infection caused by Neisseria meningitides that can cause serious illness and death. The bacteria live in the respiratory tract (nose and throat) of infected people and are spread to others by coughing, sneezing and throat secretions. Everyone is at risk of meningococcal disease but babies and children under the age of 5 and teenagers and young adults age 15-24yrs are at the highest risk of infection.
Symptoms can include, but are not limited to, high fever, neck stiffness, headaches, vomiting, sensitivity to light, irritability and drowsiness. Rash is a commonly recognized symptom of meningococcal disease, but unfortunately indicates serious infection has already taken hold. The most serious complications of meningococcal disease include meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) and septicemia (blood poisoning). Meningococcal disease is treated with antibiotics but even treatment may not prevent complications or death from the disease.
There are many strains of meningococcal disease and these strains vary depending on where in the world you live. In Australia, we see strains A, B, C, W135 and Y. Strain B is still the most commonly seen, however, we are seeing a rise in the number of W and Y strains.
Different vaccines exist that protect against different strains.
Meningococcal B strain is covered by one vaccine. In QLD it is not covered on the free National Immunisation Schedule but is available as a private vaccine from your GP. One of the reasons for this is a cost issue for the government. The number of vaccines required depends on the age at which we give the first vaccine.
Meningococcal ACWY strains are covered by a different vaccine. In QLD, this was recently added to the free National Immunisation Schedule. It is given free to babies at 12 months of age and those age between 15-19. Previously, we used to give a vaccine against the C strain ONLY at 12 months. It is safe to give babies the ACWY vaccine if they have previously been vaccinated against the C strain.
What you can do
- Be alert for signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease. Know what to look for. DON’T wait for a purple rash to appear as this is a late sign of a critical illness. Treatment is time critical so if you have any concerns, seek medical advice immediately from a doctor or hospital.
- Practice good hygiene – wash hands, cover noses when coughing / sneezing, keep kids at home when unwell, avoid sharing food and drink bottles.
- Vaccination – consider vaccination against B and ACWY strains.
All advice given is of a general nature only and may not apply to you. If you have any questions or concerns, seek medical advice.