Free vaccine rolled out to fight disease

The Victorian government has launched a social media campaign to help spread the word about a free meningococcal vaccine to protect Ballarat teenagers against the deadly disease.

It comes just months after former Loreto student Emma-Kate McGrath, 19, suddenly died from the disease, sending shock waves through the city.

Late winter and early spring are the peak seasons for meningococcal and one in 10 cases are fatal, with death occurring within a matter of hours after diagnosis.

Of those who survive, two in every 10 people are permanently disabled, often losing fingers, toes or limbs, according to the World Health Organisation.

The new vaccination was launched following the release of new statistics that revealed a spike in the number of meningococcal cases in Victoria compared with 10 years ago.

In 2017, there have been more than 45 cases of meningococcal across the state, including the tragic case of Ms McGrath, which saw hundreds of mourners attend her funeral at St Patrick's Cathedral.

The government said health authorities were expecting further cases in the coming months.

Victoria's deputy chief health officer Brett Sutton, who is a former emergency department doctor, said new strains of the disease were causing serious illness and deaths across the state.

“The meningococcal vaccine protects against the now-prevalent W strain of the disease as well as other common and increasing strains,” he said.

“We have made it free to all 15 to 19 year olds because of the serious nature of the disease.

“Our hope is that by protecting those most likely to spread the disease, we can protect the rest of the community as well.”

The vaccine will be free until December 31 at scheduled school vaccination days, Ballarat City Council immunisation sessions or from local GPs.

Meningococcal disease causes inflammation of the membrane covering the brain, blood infection and severe infections in joints, throat, lungs and intestines.

It can develop quickly and is spread by close household or physical contact.

About one in five young people carry the bacteria that causes meningococcal.

Minister for Health Jill Hennessy said immunisations would save lives.

“Parents, if you haven’t seen it already, look out for the immunisation consent form coming home from your child’s high school or make an appointment with your local GP to ensure your child is protected,” she said.

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