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Melbourne: Meningitis C outbreak in gay men prompts calls for vaccination

Health officials in Victoria are reporting a outbreak of invasive meningococcal C disease in men who have sex with men (MSM) and are urging vaccination for high risk people.

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Between May and November 2017, there have been eight confirmed cases of a closely related strain of Invasive Meningococcal Disease (IMD) serogroup C infection notified across Melbourne, Victoria. Almost all cases are in MSM with evidence of local transmission, increasing in recent weeks.

Gay and bisexual men and MSM who have not received a vaccine against meningococcal serogroup C are at increased risk in this outbreak.

In response the Department of Health and Human Services is providing free 4vMenCV (Menactra™) for all gay and bisexual men and MSM, from Monday, 11 December 2017 until 30 June 2018.

IMD is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Approximately 10 per cent of the population are asymptomatic carriers of meningococcal bacteria in the upper respiratory tract; however, IMD can occur in a small number of people.

Four serogroups of meningococcal bacteria (B, C, W and Y) account for most cases of IMD in Australia.

The most common presentations of meningococcal serogroup C disease in Victoria have been meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain) and sepsis (infection of the bloodstream). Both of these illnesses can progress rapidly with severe consequences, with death in up to 10 per cent of cases and permanent sequelae in up to 20 per cent of survivors. Meningococcal bacteria are difficult to spread and are probably only passed from person to person by close, prolonged contact.

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There have been previous clusters of IMD in MSM worldwide including in Berlin, Paris, Chicago and Los Angeles.

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