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Health warnings as ADFA cadet in hospital with meningococcal disease

Date

Natasha Boddy

A 20-year-old Australian Defence Force Academy cadet officer remains in a serious but stable condition in hospital with meningococcal disease.

Health authorities have used the young woman's case to urge people to be aware of the symptoms but they have indicated they do not expect to see more cases.

Acting ACT chief health officer Andrew Pengilley said meningococcal disease was rare and there had been just 40 cases in the ACT in the past decade. 

"Meningococcal meningitis is serious in people who get it but it is not particularly infectious so we do not expect to see any secondary cases," he said.

"It does tend to happen in winter ... but most cases are just single sporadic cases."

The 20-year-old cadet officer remains in a serious but stable condition in hospital. It could be weeks before it is known what strain of meningococcal disease she has. 

There are five types of meningococcal disease and all ADFA cadets are routinely vaccinated against meningococcal C. 

It is understood the cadet officer's family has travelled to Canberra to be by her bedside. 

The cadet was taken to Canberra Hospital after she went to the Duntroon Health Centre on Saturday evening with a fever and a "flu-like illness over about 24 hours", Dr Pengilley said. 

Seven cadets who lived on the same floor of the barracks as the young woman were given preventive antibiotics.  

Rear Admiral Robyn Walker from Joint Health Command said although no other cadets had presented with similar symptoms, health authorities were on the look out for other cases but that risk was "very, very small". 

She said information would be provided to the ADFA and defence communities about the symptoms and signs of meningococcal disease. She said support was being provided to the ill cadet and her family.

Meningococcal disease is a potentially deadly disease and, although rare, it is most common in children under the age of five and those aged 15 to 25. 

Symptoms include fever, neck stiffness, severe headaches, sensitivity to bright lights, vomiting, joint or muscle pain, rash or coma.

Meningococcal Australia director Kirsten Baker said although analysis showed infection rates tended to peak between July and September, the recent case was a reminder of the importance of knowing what the symptoms of the potentially deadly disease were. 

She had meningococcal septicaemia in 2005 and spent two weeks in hospital. Ms Baker believes if she had delayed seeking medical treatment by just an hour or two, she may not have survived. 

Ms Baker reminded both parents and adults to check vaccinations against meningococcal disease were up to date. 

"Don't just think about it for little children – [the vaccinations] are for adults as well," she said. 

"The bacteria lives in the back of the mouth and throat and, in an unlucky few, it takes hold and that's why we caution people that apart from knowing the signs and symptoms and checking that your vaccinations are up to date, practise good hygiene."

Meningococcal Australia has launched a new online tool for parents showing the key signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease. 

Dr Pengilley said anyone feeling unwell with symptoms such a high fever, headache or rash should see their doctor.

"I should stress it is extremely unlikely to be meningococcal meningitis. At this time of the year, it is more likely to be the flu but nonetheless if you are feeling unwell and are concerned, you should seek medical attention," he said.

For more information about meningococcal disease, visit health.act.gov.au/publications/fact-sheets/meningococcal. 

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