89-year-old meningococcal survivor's warning to elderly
WHEN Tilly Bowmaker tucked herself into bed next to her husband of 66 years, she was looking forward to a sports day at Francis of Assisi nursing home.
The next morning, she was screaming in pain, shaking all over and had an incredibly high fever. She felt like she was on fire.
Tilly was rushed to Mackay Base Hospital where she was told to "get her affairs in order".
The elderly woman had contracted meningococcal, a rare and potentially fatal disease.
"I woke up and I was cold... I had to have a warm shower, I was shaking all over and was very nauseated," Tilly recalled.
"It went on like this for a while then a nurse she said 'I think we have to get the doctor'... then the pain started, I was screaming in pain.
"Then by about lunchtime, they decided I was so bad... evidently the shivers and high fever was a sign and they called an ambulance that took me and I went to emergency."
The Daily Mercury reported last week that a free national program would be introduced to vaccinate 14- to 19-year-olds against meningococcal, but Tilly wanted to warn older Mackay residents that it can affect them too, after her scare earlier this year.
So far in 2018, Mackay Hospital and Health Service has reported just two cases of meningococcal.
"I'm one of those statistics," Tilly said.
"I didn't think at my age I could get something like this... I went to bed perfectly well, had a good night sleep and no headache ... it was so quick, it came on so sudden.
"I evidently was strong enough to fight it - I was in isolation for days and I'm here to tell the tale."
Francis of Assisi Home director Sister Pauline confirmed they had worked with Queensland Health after Tilly contracted meningococcal and alerted all residents of the home.
She said on the public health unit's advice Tilly and her husband Charles were vaccinated, as they lived in an independent unit, and all other residents were "in good health".
Tilly said she spent four days at Mackay Base Hospital after contracting the W-strain of the disease.
Since July 2017, there has been an outbreak of Meningococcal W (MenW) in Central Australia affecting parts of the Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland, according to the Australian Government Department of Health. This follows an overall increase in MenW cases since 2013.
The current outbreak is affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the Central Australia, Barkly and Katherine West regions of the Northern Territory, as well as areas in South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland.
"I read recently of a 30-year-old who had the same symptoms and strain of meningococcal as me who lost their hands and feet," Tilly said.
"I had five different doctors tell me that it was just a miracle I recovered as people my age rarely get over these things."
Meningococcal bacteria can be spread via droplets from the nose or throat during coughing and sneezing, but close and prolonged contact with a person who has the bacteria in their nose or throat is usually needed for the bacteria to spread.
After exposure to the bacteria, it usually takes from three to four days to become ill, although sometimes it can be as little as one day, as was Tilly's case.
"I didn't have any marks, nothing... I was in terrible pain. They thought I had pneumonia, then they started talking have I got all my affairs in order," she recalled.
"It was very scary because I was well one minute and terribly sick the next. It came on so fast."
Tilly's advice to other Mackay elderly residents was if you feel sick, get help immediately.
"Maybe if I can save one old person reading this it'll all be worth it... so don't waste any time and don't worry about going to the emergency, get to their doctor or ambulance," she said. "It's better to be on the safe side.
"If I was living at home with my husband by myself I would've thought I was just having a bad day, a bit of arthritis but there's no time to waste, get an ambulance and get to that hospital and get there early.
"If I waited until the next day to go to the doctor, I never would have recovered."
Meningococcal cases on the rise
SO FAR this year, 40 Queenslanders - including two from the Mackay Hospital Health Service region - have been diagnosed with a meningococcal infection, compared with 69 cases for the whole of 2017. The Daily Mercury reported last week more than one million teenagers will be eligible for free vaccinations against the A, C, W and Y meningococcal strains over the next four years at a cost to the Federal Government of $52 million. "In recent years, we have seen a rise in the number of invasive meningococcal disease cases in Australia," Health Minister Greg Hunt said. "In 2017, there were 382 cases reported nationally, compared with 252 cases in 2016 and 182 cases in 2015. "Deaths associated with meningococcal disease have also risen, with 28 deaths in 2017, compared with 11 deaths in 2016 and 12 deaths in 2015." Mackay Public Health Unit Physician Dr Steven Donohue said meningococcal disease was a severe but uncommon infection that occurred when meningococcal bacteria invaded the body from the throat or nose. "At any given time, meningococcal bacteria are carried harmlessly at the back of the throat or in the nose in about 10 per cent of the population," Dr Donohue said. "Although most people who have these bacteria remain quite well, they are able to spread the bacteria to others, and rarely these people may subsequently become ill." Close contacts of a person with meningococcal disease have an increased, although still quite low, risk of also developing the disease. If appropriate, a vaccination and/or antibiotics may be offered to the closest household - type contacts. "Meningococcal infection is not highly infectious," Dr Donohue said. "While the bacteria can be spread via droplets from the nose or throat during coughing and sneezing, close and prolonged contact with a person who has the bacteria in their nose or throat is usually needed for the bacteria to spread to others. "Sharing saliva through, for example, sharing cups, drinks or cigarettes is not considered to be a way of spreading the disease." Dr Donohue said meningococcal bacteria cannot live long outside of the body so the infection can't be picked up from water supplies, swimming pools, bed linen or pillows. Symptoms include vomiting, fever, headache, stiff neck, rash and joint pain.