Another three West Australians are in hospital after being diagnosed with meningococcal disease — with one of them suffering from the same strain which claimed the life of Albany teenager Lloyd Dunham.
Two elderly people and one young adult are being treated for the infection.
It is believed the two elderly adults have the B strain while the younger person has the more deadly W strain, fuelling concerns over its rise.
The cases are not believed to be linked.
His father later posted a moving tribute to his son on social media amid an outpouring of grief from family and friends.
Meningococcal infections are increasing in WA after having fallen dramatically since 2000, with the latest cases bringing the number this year to 25.
There were 23 cases reported last year, up from a low of 16 in 2013 but still far short of the numbers seen at the turn of the century.
In 2000, the state recorded 86 cases — most of them the C strain.
But it is the increased rate of meningococcal W and Y that has health experts concerned, with both linked to a higher mortality rate.
WA teenager Lloyd Dunham died in Tasmania after contracting meningococcal W. (Facebook: Lloyd Dunham)
Health Department communicable diseases expert Paul Armstrong told ABC Radio Perth around 10-15 per cent of people who contracted the W strain could die from it.
“Then there’s lots and lots of quite nasty complications … it is a very severe disease and one of the very few that can kill young people,” he said.
“[It] is quite a concern because especially the W strain, we know that it actually causes a higher death rate than other types of meningococcal disease.
“It’s just found its niche and it’s got a kick along in the community.”
Vaccination program expanded
In January, the State Government announced it was providing free vaccinations for high school teenagers aged 15 to 19 to protect against strains A, C, W and Y.
Facts about meningococcal disease:
- It is not common, but it is potentially life-threatening.
- It can cause disabilities if not treated.
- It is caused by bacterial infection of the blood, or the membranes that line the spinal cord and brain.
- The bacteria is carried harmlessly in the back of the nose and throat by between 10 and 20 per cent of the population.
- Symptoms may include fever, chills, aches, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and confusion.
- While the majority of people fully recover, infection can progress quickly and about 5 per cent will die.
The program was expanded last month when it was announced teenagers would be able to access vaccinations against the W strain at GP clinics.
While the Government is supplying the vaccine to GPs for free, there may be a gap cost charged by the doctor.
However, doctors have been urged to not pass on any extra fees.
Meningococcal disease can also cause severe symptoms including brain injury, loss of limbs and organ damage.
Dr Armstrong said it was caused by a bacteria that was generally harmless.
“[It] usually lives harmlessly at the back of the throat of about 5-10 percent of people in the community but every now and then it causes invasive disease,” he said.
“There are certain risk factors like smoking and other risk factors, but a small number of people will get invasive disease from it and then it can be very, very serious.”