First year students up to the age of 25 are eligible for the free Meningococcal ACWY vaccine, which protects against a particularly deadly form of meningitis, meningococcal W (Men W).
Cases of Men W rose from 22 in 2009-10 to over 225 in 2016-17 and total deaths across all age groups also increased from less than five to at least 20 over the same period.
But uptake of the vaccination programme has proved low, at about one-third of those eligible across England - despite recent confirmation from Public Health England that the vaccination is proving effective, with no cases of Men W found in eligible teenagers who had been vaccinated against the disease under the current programme.
With teenagers and students at higher risk from the disease because they mix closely with large numbers of new friends, some of whom will unknowingly be carrying the bacteria, enabling it to spread more easily, Meningitis Now has renewed its call for more to get vaccinated.
Our chief executive Dr Tom Nutt said: “We are determined to raise this level of uptake in 2018 and would ask students to learn the lessons of their peers who have already taken action to protect themselves."
“In addition to running our targeted campaigns for students and parents, we will continue our university ‘Meningitis Aware Recognition Mark’ programme, which offers ongoing support and advice to university-based health and wellbeing teams."
Don’t be complacent
“It’s vital that students are not complacent about the threat of meningitis - we urge them to take up this lifesaving vaccine.”
The vaccine was introduced in 2015 for 13 to 18-year-olds and new university students after Public Health England (PHE) highlighted the increase in Men W cases.
Whilst the schools programme has proved successful uptake for school leavers and university students has been low, at around one-third of those eligible across England
Spike during winter months
Cases of bacterial meningitis can spike during the winter months and students are particularly susceptible. Teenagers are the second most at risk group of contracting meningitis after babies and toddlers.
Tom added: “Up to a quarter of students carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis compared to one in ten of the general population."
“Over 12 per cent of all cases occur in the 14 to 24 age group, with first year students being at particular risk.”
There are not vaccines for all strains of meningitis and advice is for students to also learn the signs and symptoms of the disease, and look out for themselves and their friends.
Meningitis symptoms can include sickness, fever, fever with cold hands and feet, muscle pain, headaches, confusion, irritability, dislike of bright lights and a rash that doesn’t fade under pressure. Students should seek urgent medical help if they suspect the disease.