Outbreak of deadly disease in Katherine

The meningococcal disease outbreak continues in Katherine and Katherine West regions.Picture: Karleen Minney
The meningococcal disease outbreak continues in Katherine and Katherine West regions.Picture: Karleen Minney

The meningococcal disease outbreak continues in Katherine and Katherine West regions.

This year there have been 25 confirmed cases of Meningococcal W in the NT with one case awaiting final laboratory testing.

In comparison, three were confirmed in 2016, one in 2015 and four in 2014.

Meningococcal disease is a life-threatening illness caused by bacterial infection of the blood and/or the membranes that line the spinal cord and brain and occasionally infect other sites, such as large joints.

All of those affected in this outbreak to date are Aboriginal people, 19 cases are children less than ten years of age.

Central Australia and the Barkly region are also affected.

The department of health is offering free vaccines to all Aboriginal people aged between 12 months and 19 years in Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs. 

Free vaccines are available to anyone aged between 12 months and 19 years living in remote communities.

“The NT Department of Health has identified the close contacts of these cases and provided appropriate antibiotics and a vaccine to minimise the chance that the organism might be passed on to others, ”a health spokeswoman said. 

Centre for Disease Control acting director Charles Douglas said this was a massive effort for health services in the region and focus was on the most at risk and those who are most likely to be carrying the germ in their nose or throat

“Those who are not in the high risk groups can see their local health clinic or GP to discuss the need for vaccination and purchase the meningococcal vaccine on presentation of a script to a community pharmacy if required,” Dr Douglas said.

Meningococcal disease is an uncommon but very serious disease.

It is treatable with antibiotics but the infection can progress very quickly. Dr Douglas says it is important for people to be aware of the symptoms and to seek medical advice early for either themselves or their children if they have any concerns.

Symptoms include fever, headache, neck stiffness, an aversion to bright lights, a rash and joint pain.

Those affected may also have vomiting and diarrhoea, be difficult to wake up and babies may refuse food and drink and have a high pitched cry.