Outbreaks of Neisseria meningitidis in Western Australia: tailoring the response to the needs of the community

Clare Huppatz1, Jodie Bennett2 and Robyn Gibbs1

1Communicable Disease Control Directorate, Department of Health
2WA Country Health Service, Pilbara

In Australia, outbreaks of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) have become more frequent. Western Australia (WA) has experienced several IMD outbreaks in rural areas.  There are no comprehensive national guidelines for responding to community outbreaks that specify exact control measures that should be employed.   WA has developed a consistent approach when making decisions about outbreak responses, in terms of identifying the population at risk and targeting vaccination campaigns.

Between 2016 and 2019, three IMD outbreak responses in rural WA demonstrate the need to modify and tailor outbreak response measures to suit the size, location, demographics and social structures of the populations deemed to be at risk of IMD.  In 2016, WA responded to the first IMD outbreak reported in Australia, in a regional mining town, with an ‘at risk’ population identified as being both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal residents of the community.  The second response spanned a vast geographical area, targeting mainly Aboriginal communities in central parts of WA.  The third response, also in a regional mining area, targeted only Aboriginal people in several towns.

While each response was successful, each had challenges that were different and unique.  The methods employed during the first outbreak response were adapted, and new strategies were used to reach different target populations during the subsequent responses.  The key lessons learnt from each response informed the next, in terms of preparation, logistics, operations and communications.  During this period, WA has trialled a range of strategies that could be considered during future emergent outbreak responses in rural areas.

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