Western Australia (WA) Health reported this week that  three adults have been treated in hospital after being diagnosed with serogroup W meningococcal disease.

There is no link between the cases.

Public domain Image/Richard Russell, Dominic Dwyer
Public domain Image/Richard Russell, Dominic Dwyer

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.

There were 41 cases notified in WA in 2018, comprising 30 serogroup W, eight serogroup B and three serogroup Y meningococcal infections.

The incidence of meningococcal disease had previously decreased significantly in WA – down from a peak of 86 cases in 2000 to a low of 16 cases in 2013 – but is now increasing again due to the emergence of new virulent strains of serogroup W, and to a lesser extent serogroup Y, meningococcal bacteria.

Meningococcal meningitis vaccine encouraged at the University of Otago

A total of 46 cases were notified in WA in 2017, double the number reported in 2016 and the most in any year since 2005.  The number of serogroup W cases in 2018 is higher than last year (23) and well above the long term average.

The Department of Health routinely identifies the close contacts of all notified cases of meningococcal disease and provides them with information and, where appropriate, antibiotics and a vaccine. This is to minimise the chance of further spread of the organism to others, should one or more of the contacts be carrying the strain that caused disease.


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From July 2018, a vaccine to protect against four serogroups of the meningococcal disease (serogroups A, C, W and Y) is provided free to children at 12 months of age. There is also a WA meningococcal ACWY vaccine catch-up program for children aged 1-4 years.

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As a result of the increase in serogroup W and Y disease in WA over the past three years, a funded state-wide meningococcal ACWY vaccination program for adolescents aged 15 to 19 years commenced in 2017.  In 2018 and 2019, the program is targeting incoming Year 10 students in schools, while other individuals aged 15-19 years can currently continue to access free catch-up vaccination through other immunisation providers.