The State Government is extending the free vaccination program against meningococcal disease to every Tasmanian aged between six weeks and 20 years.
Following the fifth confirmed case of meningococcal disease in the Hobart area, we are moving to boost the public health response immediately.
Testing indicates four people have contracted the W strain of the disease, including one person who died. There has been one confirmed case of meningococcal B, a 20-year-old man who has been released from hospital.
Based on advice from public health experts, the current vaccination program will be extended to include all Tasmanians aged between six weeks and 20 years (those born from August 1, 1997). This cohort has been identified as the group at greatest risk of contracting and spreading the disease.
Public Health is in the process of mobilising the extended vaccination program. The first stage will focus on the area where a number of meningococcal disease cases has occurred – Hobart’s northern suburbs – and will then be expanded across the state in the following weeks.
The broader program announced today will see eligible Tasmanians receive a free meningococcal vaccine from either a general practitioner, a pharmacist (for children aged 10 and over), special public clinics, and some high schools. The vaccine will cover the meningococcal strains A, C, W and Y.
Last year, in response to a noticeable increase in meningococcal W cases, the State Government intervened with an ACWY immunisation program for 15 to 19-year-olds. Meningococcal ACWY vaccine was later included in the National Immunisation Program as a routine vaccine at age 12 months.
The Government will continue to work with Public Health experts to consider coverage for all vaccine-preventable strains.
Meningococcal disease is a rare but serious condition. Typically in Tasmania, there are five to six cases a year. Last year, there were 16 confirmed cases.
Meningococcal bacteria are spread through secretions of the nose and throat, and older teenagers are particularly at risk of carrying and transmitting the bacteria to others.
It remains important for the public to be aware of the symptoms of meningococcal disease such as fever, severe headache, severe muscle pain, and quickly becoming unusually unwell. Late in the illness there can be a rash. Infants can be lethargic, floppy and feed poorly.
Anyone who is concerned that they may be showing symptoms of meningococcal disease should seek emergency medical care.
Further information is available online at http://www.health.tas.gov.au or via the Public Health Hotline: 1800 671 738.
SOURCE: Tasmanian Premier’s Dept.