Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning) and this is often referred to as meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease can be fatal in 5-10% of cases, and those who survive may be left with life-changing disabilities and health problems such as hearing loss, brain damage and limb loss. Early recognition and treatment reduces the likelihood of life-changing disabilities and fatal outcomes.
It is vital that staff and students are made aware of the common signs and symptoms to look out for and the action to take if they are concerned.
Why students (particularly freshers) are more vulnerable:
- Around 25% of adolescents carry the meningococcal bacteria in the back of their throats, compared to approximately 10% of the UK population. Most carriers do not become ill and usually develop some immunity to these bacteria. In an age group where more people are carrying the bacteria, there will be more disease
- Meningococcal bacteria are passed from person to person by coughing, sneezing and intimate kissing. Increased social interaction amongst students means that the bacteria can be passed on more easily
- MenW disease has historically been rare in the UK, but since 2009, year on year cases have increased. A particularly aggressive strain of Men W is causing disease in all age groups but there has been a rapid increase in university students
- The increase in MenW in recent years led to the introduction of a MenACWY vaccine which is currently being offered to all 14-18 year olds and to first time students. This vaccine will save lives
- University freshers can be more vulnerable because of living in cramped housing or halls of residence. Young people come together from all over the world to study, live and socialise together. They can be exposed to bacteria and viruses their bodies have not met before. This is why so many new students get ‘fresher’s flu’
- In a recent Meningitis Now survey, 90% of people aged 18 to 24 years said they had heard of the disease, yet only a quarter knew the signs and symptoms, and 60% said they didn’t know they were at risk
- A study which looked at meningitis and vaccine awareness amongst students enrolled at Northern Ireland universities showed that there was general lack of awareness of the sign and symptoms of meningitis amongst students. In terms of disease understanding and knowing the signs and symptoms females were more aware than males (1)
- Going off to university is often the first time young people are living away from their parents and their own health and wellbeing is not always a priority. With no parents to keep an eye on their health, meningitis can be missed
It’s reassuring to know that your university will be Meningitis Aware.
We can provide a range of free printed and digital resources for you to raise awareness with students at key points in the year.
Before students arrive at the university
- Consider promoting meningitis and vaccine awareness at student open days. This is a great opportunity to distribute materials to large numbers of prospective students and those accompanying them. This has worked well at some universities e.g. Ulster University’s School of Biomedical Sciences
- Information on meningitis and MenACWY vaccination should be sent to students once they have accepted their place. This can be done in a variety of ways including inserts in welcome packs, attachments to emails and messages via social media platforms
- Add materials and information to fresher’s web pages on your universities website. This can be useful for those universities who do not send information through the post
- Printed information such as posters, signs and symptoms cards and beer mats should be placed around campus, particularly in areas such as halls of residence, student union bars, canteens and department noticeboards
When students arrive
- Promote MenACWY vaccine and ensure that a student’s vaccination status is checked when they are registering with a GP or Health Centre. This can be tricky for those universities who do not have an on-site Health Centre. However, this could be checked at registration or during welcome weekends
- Include awareness materials at health or fresher’s fairs
We will always try to partner one of our volunteers to every university in the UK. Why not get in touch to see if we have a volunteer to work with you
Meningitis Now - Student Awareness Week - a predominantly digital campaign which is held every October. As a MARM university you will be notified of activities and any additional resources. This can be a great time to raise awareness as freshers are settling into student life.
Whilst it is often the responsibility of student services or student health services to raise awareness of meningitis, we would like to encourage all university departments to play a role in disseminating information.
- Moore PJA, Millar BC and Moore JE. Meningococcal ACWY vaccine uptake and awareness amongst student freshers enrolled at Northern Ireland universities. Int J Adolesc Med Health (2017) Jan 18.