To help fight a recent surge in meningococcal cases, all Victorians aged 15-19 are now eligible for a free vaccine.

The vaccine, provided by the Victorian Government, protects against four strains of the disease.

Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis. These bacteria are divided into 13 strains or ‘serogroups’ designated by letters of the alphabet such as A, B, C, W and Y.

There were 48 cases of the “W” strain in Victoria in 2016, up from just one in 2013. Cases of the “Y” strain are also increasing.

Meningococcal disease is passed from person to person by regular close, prolonged household, or intimate contact with infected secretions from the back of the nose and throat.

Western Victoria Primary Health Network Regional Manager Sue Fleming urged everyone aged 15-19 to take up the offer of a free vaccine by December 31.

“Local councils are making the vaccine available at all secondary schools for year 10, 11 and 12 students,” she said.

“For people aged 15-19 who no longer attend secondary school, the best way to access the free vaccine is via their GP. Anyone outside of this age group can still receive the vaccine via their GP for a fee.”

Warrnambool City Council Chief Medical Officer Dr Philip Hall said that vaccination is the best way to prevent what can be a very serious illness.

“All instances of meningococcal disease can be severe, and while most people make a full recovery, about 10 per cent of patients suffer long-term effects,” he said. “In very rare cases, if left untreated, meningococcal can be fatal.

“A single dose of the Menactra vaccine provides protection against A, C, W and Y meningococcal strains and will boost adolescents' protection from the C strain vaccine they most likely received as an infant.”

Meningococcal symptoms can include fever, headaches, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle or joint pains, neck stiffness and drowsiness or confusion.

Anyone who suspects they may be suffering from the disease is encouraged to see a doctor immediately. For more information, visit