A farmer in plague-ravaged central west New South Wales is believed to be the first known person in Australia to contract a rodent-borne form of meningitis.
- A farmer from western NSW lost eight kilograms after catching a form of bacterial meningitis
- Darrell Jordison says the risk of infection has been increased by the mouse plague in the state
- He wants people to be aware of the risks of handling rodents and being exposed to their leavings
Last month Darrell Jordison of Gulargambone was diagnosed with lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM), which NSW Health describes as a “very rare” type of bacterial meningitis.
An online search does not suggest there have been other Australian cases of the disease, but a February report from Health NSW says it is likely “that the condition has historically been under-reported”.
Mr Jordison said doctors told him he was the “first person in Australia” to contract the virus.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” he said.
“The only way you can get the virus is through rodents.
‘Not super unlucky’
Hundreds of thousands of mice have been plaguing western NSW since last year’s harvest.
Farmers are not the only ones impacted — rodents have been reported running rampant through homes and businesses.
Despite the rare nature of LCM, Mr Jordison is calling on people to be vigilant when handling mice.
“It’s not like you have to be super unlucky to get a mouse with the virus, because plenty of them have got it,” he said.
Health NSW stated in its February communicable diseases report that LCM could be contracted through exposure to rodent excretions.
“The virus is excreted in the faeces and urine of rodents,” the report said.
“Exposure to these excretions, via direct contact, aerosolisation or contact with a contaminated environment, can result in human infection.”
‘A stabbing pain’
Mr Jordison said he had been experiencing discomfort in the weeks before he sought medical treatment.
“I just had some sore joints and went to a chiropractor about my neck because it was a stiff and I thought I must have put something out,” he said.
“Then on the Sunday, we went down to Dubbo and I felt like I was getting the flu.
“My neck was really bad – like a stabbing pain – and I couldn’t drive home.”
Mr Jordison said the aches and pains prevented him from sleeping that night and then worsened the following day.
“I was in bed and then I thought that we better get an ambulance and go to the hospital,” he said.
A week in hospital
Mr Jordison was transported to Dubbo Base Hospital where doctors worked with a team in Sydney via videolink to determine what was causing his symptoms.
A lumbar puncture was carried out to check the cell count in his cerebrospinal fluid in the hope of ruling out meningitis.
“When they got the results back my cell count was really high, like it would be if you have meningitis,” Mr Jordison said.
“Usually you would expect a [white blood] cell count of about five to 10 and my cell count was 200.
Mr Joridson remained in hospital in Dubbo for a week where he was treated with antibiotics.
It was once he had retuned home from hospital that he was told of his rare diagnosis.
Doctors at Westmead Hospital are now looking to do further research on Mr Jordison’s case, which caused him to lose eight kilograms.
Bacterial meningitis kills one in 10 sufferers.
People urged not to panic
A spokesperson for the Western Local Health District has confirmed the case.
“In February this year a person from Gulargambone was treated for lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM), which is a disease transmitted through contact with rodents,” the spokesperson said.
“The person was treated and discharged.”
The spokesperson advised people to wear protective clothing while handling mice and rats and routinely check drinking water tanks for signs of rodents.
“Use all available precautions when dealing with live or dead rodents, including wearing personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks,” the spokesperson said.
“Where homes are dependent on rainwater storage for drinking water, householders should undertake routine maintenance to ensure the cleanliness of the catchment and tanks.”