Health warning after case of meningococcal confirmed


FAR North Queenslanders are being urged to be vigilant for a dangerous bacterial disease that has reared its head in the region for the first time this year.

Health officials have confirmed a case of invasive meningococcal in the Cairns region, after it was detected in a patient within the past week.

The Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service, however, cannot say where in the region the case has been recorded.

Meningococcal disease is a relatively rare illness that invades the body through the throat or nose. It usually appears as meningitis or sepsis.

The infection can develop very quickly and can be fatal within hours if not treated properly, according to Meningococcal Australia.

Meningococcal meningitis infection – rash. 28/2/99
Meningococcal meningitis infection – rash. 28/2/99

Although most victims of the disease will recover fully, 10 per cent of those infected will die, and about 20 per cent will have permanent disabilities - ranging from learning difficulties, sight and hearing problems, to liver and kidney failure, loss of fingers, toes and limbs and scarring caused by skin grafts.

The CHHHS region only has an average of one case of the disease each year.

Cairns Tropical Public Health Services director Dr Richard Gair said the unit routinely followed up every new meningococcal case, and may provide antibiotics and/or vaccinations to close household contacts, in line with national guidelines.

"In this instance, the Tropical Public Health Service has undertaken contact tracing," he said.

"There is very low risk of further cases."

Director of Tropical Public Health, Cairns Dr Richard Gair. Picture: Josh Woning.
Director of Tropical Public Health, Cairns Dr Richard Gair. Picture: Josh Woning.

He said the disease was uncommon and did not spread easily.

"However, meningococcal disease can cause serious illness marked by rapid deterioration," he said.

"The community should be vigilant and alert to the signs and symptoms."

The symptoms of meningococcal include a rash, vomiting, fever, headache, confusion, stiff neck, and joint pain.

"If concerned, people should seek immediate medical attention as early treatment can be lifesaving," Dr Gair said.

"All children are offered a combined meningococcus type A, C, W, and Y vaccine at 12 months, and in school Year 10.

"Another vaccine against meningococcus type B is available privately."