Department of Health

Health alert on meningococcal disease

Health alert

Status:
Active
Alert number:
221207
Date issued:
06 Dec 2022
Issued by:
Associate Professor Deborah Friedman, Deputy Chief Health Officer (Communicable Disease)
Issued to:
Victorian residents and health professionals

Key messages

  • The Department of Health has been notified of a case of meningococcal disease acquired in Maroochydore, Queensland during “schoolies” in the period 26 November to 3 December 2022. 
  • Meningococcal disease is uncommon but can lead to serious illness very quickly. 
  • Anyone who attended social venues where there was close contact (i.e. nightclubs) in Maroochydore during this period should be alert for symptoms. 
  • People who develop meningococcal-like symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
  • Health Professionals should consider meningococcal disease in patients with compatible illness, especially those who were in the Maroochydore area.
  • Early recognition and treatment are critical as meningococcal disease can be fatal within hours if left untreated.
  • There are different strains of infection, and the disease can occur in people even if they have been vaccinated.
  • Check that you and your children are up to date with meningococcal vaccinations. 

What is the issue?

The Department of Health has been notified of one case of meningococcal disease in an 18-year-old who recently returned from ‘schoolies’ in Maroochydore, Queensland. 

People who were in the Maroochydore area between 26 November to 3 December 2022, especially those who attended social venues with close contact such as night clubs, should monitor for symptoms. If symptoms develop, they should seek urgent medical care. 

Meningococcal disease is an uncommon but serious illness which can be potentially life-threatening. It is caused by certain strains of bacteria that can be found in the upper respiratory tract in a proportion of the population. Some people carry the bacteria without experiencing illness. It can spread from person-to-person through close or prolonged contact, such as between household members or intimate partners. 

It is important to vaccinated against meningococcal disease.  

There have been recent cases of meningococcal disease linked to music festivals in both New South Wales (Splendour in the Grass Festival in August 2022) and Australian Capital Territory (Spilt Milk Festival in December 2022).

Who is at risk?

Meningococcal disease can occur in all age groups. People who have had close or prolonged contact with an infected person are at higher risk of infection. 

In Victoria, the highest risk groups are:

  • infants and young children, particularly those aged less than two years
  • adolescents aged 15 to 19 years
  • people who have had close or prolonged contact with someone with meningococcal disease, such as household members and intimate partners
  • people who have not been immunised against meningococcal disease
  • special risk and immunosuppressed patients- children (aged from six weeks and over) and adults who have high-risk conditions, such as a poor functioning or no spleen, a complement component disorder, HIV, current or future treatment with eculizumab or a haematopoietic stem cell transplant.  

Symptoms and transmission

Symptoms of meningococcal disease can include: 

  • fever 
  • chills
  • malaise 
  • headache 
  • neck stiffness 
  • joint pain 
  • rash of red-purple spots or bruises 
  • sensitivity to light 
  • nausea and vomiting 

Young children may have non-specific symptoms, which may include: 

  • irritability 
  • difficulty waking 
  • high-pitched crying 
  • refusal to eat

People with meningococcal disease can become unwell very quickly and not all symptoms may be present at once. 

Recommendations

For the public

Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community from the harmful effects of meningococcal disease. 

Under the National Immunisation Program, meningococcal ACWY (Men ACWY) vaccine is provided free for babies at 12 months, adolescents, and people of all ages with certain medical conditions.

As of 1 July 2020, Aboriginal children up to the age of two years, and people with certain medical conditions, can also access free meningococcal B (Men B) vaccine. Anyone from six weeks of age can receive the Men B vaccine to reduce the risk of infection, however a fee will be associated for the cost of the vaccine.

People who may have been exposed to meningococcal disease should monitor for symptoms and if they develop, people should seek urgent medical care. Some people may be contacted by the department and recommended to receive preventative antibiotics. 

For the health professionals 

Consider meningococcal disease in anyone who presents with compatible symptoms and has visited schoolies events in Maroochydore between 26 November to 3 December 2022.

If you suspect meningococcal disease, request cultures of a sterile site (blood and CSF) through your normal pathology provider and arrange PCR testing of specimens (CSF and EDTA blood) at MDU. 

Meningococcal disease is an urgent notifiable condition which requires notification to the department upon initial diagnosis or clinical suspicion (presumptive or confirmed) as soon as practicable and within 24 hours.

Early diagnosis and treatment with appropriate antibiotics is critical to reduce severity of illness and prevent fatalities. Empirical treatment for bacterial meningitis (as per the current edition of Therapeutic Guidelines) provides adequate coverage for meningococcal infection. 

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Reviewed 07 December 2022

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