We are urging students, parents and carers to make sure that young people have received their meningitis vaccinations before starting college and university this year.
15-24 years olds are in the second highest risk group of contracting meningitis, making it as important as ever to raise awareness amongst students.
When students start university and mix with a lot of other young people, the chances of bacteria passing between them increases. Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning) which can kill within hours.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) recently revealed that 1 in 8 young people starting college or university haven’t received their MenACWY vaccination, which protects against four strains of meningitis and is routinely given to school students in years 9 or 10.
Check with GP
There are many reasons students may miss getting their jabs, so it’s really important that students or parents check with their GP if they have received it before leaving for university.
Unfortunately, there’s no vaccination that can protect against all types of meningitis. So it’s incredibly important that students also know the signs and symptoms, which can include headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, stomach cramps and fever with cold hands and feet, and seek urgent medical attention if they are worried.
Sophia Spiers was in her first year at Manchester university when she woke up with what she thought was a sickness bug. She quickly realised it was something far more serious when she developed a terrible headache.
It wasn’t until Sophia took a call from her mum and she realised that Sophia could hardly speak that anyone else was alerted to the seriousness of her condition.
Sophia says, “Mum realised it was very serious so got me to text my flat mates asking for help. I just about managed to get a distress message of ‘Help 111’ through to the flat mate group chat.”
Luckily for Sophia two of her flatmates rushed to assist her and an ambulance was called. She was diagnosed with sepsis at the hospital, and the next day it was confirmed Sophia had MenB.
After three days in intensive care Sophia was moved to a high dependency unit where she received emergency surgery due to the sepsis she had contracted. She had also become permanently deaf in her right ear.
Only a month later Sophia was readmitted to hospital with complications from her meningitis experience. Thankfully, she is now recovering well and is keen to spread awareness to other young people about the importance of getting their jabs and knowing the symptoms of meningitis.
Sophia had received her infant and secondary school MenACWY vaccines but, unfortunately, there is currently no MenB vaccine (which protects against meningococcal group B) available on the NHS vaccine programme for teenagers, even though it is the most prevalent form on meningitis in young people.
Sophia says, “I am really keen to spread awareness about MenB, as this is the type of meningitis I got.
“I was given the MenACWY vaccine as a baby and in secondary school but the MenB vaccination has only been available to babies since 2015, and there’s not one offered to older kids.
“I think it’s so important that university students understand the signs of symptoms of MenB, as they are in a high-risk category to catch it.”
Since the easing of lockdown restrictions, we have seen a concerning rise in cases of MenB among young people so it is vital that we continue to raise awareness of the risks.
Our student campaign 2023 aims to empower young people to act and seek urgent medical help if someone is ill and getting worse. We are calling for all young people at college and university to get their jabs, be aware of the symptoms, and look out for each other. Why? Because it could save lives.
For more information and resources for students, young people, carers and universities please visit our Students and Universities pages.
Read Sophia's story.