Aboriginal children at higher risk of meningococcal


Jason Tan, left.

Aboriginal children are at a higher risk of contracting meningococcal disease than other Australians, according to a pair of Perth doctors.

Fiona Stanley Hospital emergency department doctor Jason Tan said Aboriginal children had a higher risk of contracting the disease because of poor standards of living and a lack of health education among those living in Aboriginal communities.

“We need to engage in health care in general. It took the Aboriginal communities a while before they trusted the mainstream health care system,” he said.

“Usually they (Aborigines) present very late when they have meningococcal and when they do the child is already at high risk.

“So, late presentation and not being educated on meningococcal puts Aboriginals at a higher risk compared to others.”

Dr Tan said the Stolen Generation led Aboriginal people to distrust the Federal Government and some missed out on vital health care, as a result.

“We have to be mindful of more marginalised groups such as the Aborigines, in particular Aboriginal children,” he said.

“Culturally they’re not as aware or they’re not as forthcoming to the public health care system means they are the ones at a higher risk.”

The disease occurs as a result of a bacterial infection of the blood and/or the membranes that line the spinal cord and brain. It can be deadly.

Although meningococcal can be treated with antibiotics, it spreads at a rapid rate.

Recent cases in WA include the death of a child in early September, while an adult contracted the disease earlier this month.

Dr Tan said the disease was quite uncommon.

“I did children’s ED (Emergency Department) for quite a while and I have not seen a single case,” he said.

“And those cases that we suspect as meningococcal, they turned out not to be meningococcal.”

But he said there was no preventive measure that could curb the spread of the disease. Awareness was key, he said.

Royal Perth Hospital doctor Zi Qin Ng said parents should be alert to the risk.

“Kids should have direct vaccinations, that is probably the most effective way at the moment,” he said.

Symptoms of the disease include high fever, chills, headache, neck stiffness, nausea and vomiting, a purple rash, drowsiness, getting lethargic, confusion,  severe muscle and joint pains and generally feeling unwell.

In rare cases, the disease can cause serious invasive infections, including septicaemia (infection of the blood), meningitis (infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord) and other illnesses.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of meningococcal disease should seek immediate medical attention.