A child at a Darwin childcare centre has died of meningococcal disease, leaving authorities checking to see whether an outbreak of the W strain of the disease in Central Australia has spread to the Northern Territory capital.
Although the NT Department of Health has said it is unlikely the current case is linked to an outbreak of meningococcal in Central Australia, tests are underway to check whether that is the case, said acting director of the NT Centre for Disease Control, Dr Charles Douglas.
“We are still waiting for some final lab results,” Dr Douglas said.
The child who died from the disease had attended the Malak Family Centre in suburban Darwin and parents of children at the centre are believed to have been made aware of the death, with other children at the centre given antibiotics to protect them.
“We identify close contacts of the person involved and we talk to them and offer them clearance antibiotics if they are high risk,” Dr Douglas told ABC Radio Darwin.
So far there have been 26 cases of the contagious disease in remote parts of the Northern Territory, with cases also confirmed in the APY lands near the South Australian border, and in remote parts of Western Australia.
Typically there are fewer than four cases each year.
Symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, neck stiffness, an aversion to bright lights, a rash and joint pain,” the Department of Health said.
“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.”
The infection can progress very quickly but can be treated with antibiotics.
The W strain of the disease is not covered under the general free vaccination schedule in the NT, but the Centre for Disease Control plans to introduce it next year.
There is a roll-out of vaccinations of the W strain though in some remote communities.
“We are rolling that out in Central Australia, Katherine, Barkly and Katherine West for people aged 12 to 19 in the remote communities and Aboriginal people in Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs,” Dr Douglas said.