Questions are being asked as to why vaccines for two of the deadly meningococcal strains are not freely available on the National Immunisation Program, following several cases of the deadly disease and now this tragic death of this little Adelaide boy.
Charlie Joshua Mason, just 16 months old, has died of meningococcal – and it is suspected it is the B strain that took his life, one of the strains that is preventable but the vaccine is not government-subsidised, that is it needs to be privately funded.
Also making matters worse there is a global shortage of the meningococcal B vaccine with supplies, according to its manufacturers, “intermittent” until at least the end of the year. In SA alone, there have been 21 cases of the deadly meningococcal this year and 18 were B-strain.
The other strain which has a vaccine which is also not freely available is the once rare W strain whose numbers are growing. SA has recorded 3 cases of it this year, and it’s this strain that is currently being reported in WA.
Meningococcal Australia director Eliza Ault-Connell told the Adelaide Advertiser that she is urging the Government to make the B vaccine free and to take note of the emerging W-strain.
The 35-year-old fought her own battle with the disease in 1997 when she was just 16 years old.
“In the UK, since they implemented the vaccine as part of the routine vaccination schedule in September of last year, it has already halved the amount of B-strain cases in infants in one year,” she said.
“The long-term cost of this disease can include lifetime care resulting from amputations, kidney function, vision, hearing loss, extensive skin grafting as well as physiological effects.”
Each year in Australia, meningococcal infections cause 700-800 hospitalisations and 35-40 deaths (10 in children aged 0-4 years). According to Meningococcal Australia, the B strain is the most common in Australia, yet it’s the one that is not on the register.
What you need to know about meningococcal
The Australian Government's Immunise Australia Program pulls no punches when it talks about meningococcal.
"(This) disease is a life-threatening illness caused by a number of different strains of the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. This bacterium, spread through coughing, sneezing or close contact with infected people, can cause septicaemia (blood poisoning) and meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord)," it says.
"Up to one in 10 patients with invasive meningococcal disease in Australia dies. Of those who survive, one in 30 has severe skin scarring or loss of limbs, and one in 30 has severe brain damage."
These are the symptoms which may not be present at once but people with meningococcal disease can become extremely unwell very quickly:
- high fever
- neck stiffness
- sensitivity to light
- confusion, irritability
The incubation period is one to 10 days but most commonly about three or 4.
If you are worried, see your health professional immediately or go to your nearest hospital emergency department. Your GP can also discuss vaccinations with you.