University of Surrey

27th April 2017

Public Health England (PHE) is working closely with Surrey County Council and NHS partners following three confirmed cases of meningitis among students at the University of Surrey.


Sadly one of the students died while travelling home from a sports club tour to Italy. Passengers from the coach in which the student travelled were offered antibiotics as a precautionary measure. The other two students are recovering well after receiving appropriate treatment.

Detailed analysis of the bacteria that caused disease in two of the students confirms that the cases were due to meningococcal group B (MenB) infection. Because of this, PHE is arranging for all full-time undergraduate students who live in Surrey university halls of residence to be vaccinated against MenB.

The University has written to students and staff advising them of the planned action and highlighting signs and symptoms of meningitis along with advice on what to do if they suspect they are infected.

Risk of transmission is low

Dr Peter English, Consultant in Communicable Disease Control, PHE South East of England said: “Meningococcal infection is comparatively rare and the risk of transmission is relatively low. However, after considering all the medical evidence we have decided to vaccinate around 4,200 students at the university as a precautionary measure against further infection.

“People who have prolonged, close contact with an ill person are at a slightly increased risk of becoming unwell, which is why these immediate contacts were previously offered antibiotics as a precautionary measure.

"I would like to reassure students, teachers and their families that the risk of catching this infection from having spent time with these students remains very low but I would still urge everyone to be aware of the symptoms of both meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning). "

I would also remind students to check their eligibility for the Men ACWY vaccine with their GP. This vaccine protects against a number of different strains of meningococcal infection.”

Get to know the signs and symptoms

Steve Dayman, Executive Founder at patient support charity Meningitis Now, said: “We extend our sympathy to the family and friends of those students at the University of Surrey who have been affected by meningitis and  welcome the proactive and precautionary  approach that Public Health England and the university is taking to minimise the risk of further infection to 4,200 students who live in university halls.

“I would urge students being offered the Men B vaccine to get vaccinated and for others, both at Surrey University and within the broader community, not to panic  - meningitis remains  a relatively rare disease and that it’s even more unusual to see multiple cases like this. Should people have concerns about meningitis then should get to know the signs and symptoms of the disease.  This information is available  on our mobile app and  our wallet sized symptoms cards are available, free of charge, from the Meningitis Now web site. It important to also stress that  if anyone suspects meningitis they should trust their instincts and seek immediate medical help.”

If you have any questions about what it happening, read the FAQ's below:

University of Surrey Meningococcal: Frequently asked questions

How many Meningitis cases are there at the University of Surrey?

There have been three cases of meningococcal disease at the University of Surrey. At least two of the cases were caused by a group B strain of the meningococcal bacteria (MenB). We are awaiting further analysis on the third case. 

What is Meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is a rare but serious bacterial infection caused by meningococcal bacteria. People with meningococcal disease can develop meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain), septicaemia (blood poisoning) or both. Healthy young children, teenagers and young adults have a higher risk of meningococcal disease compared to the rest of the population. Meningococcal bacteria belonging to group B (MenB) are responsible for most meningococcal infections in the UK and across Europe.

How contagious is Meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal bacteria are carried in the back of the throat of about one in ten people at any one time, but only very rarely cause illness. Most people who carry the bacteria become immune to them. The bacteria do not spread easily unless there is prolonged, close contact with a carrier of the bacteria.

Are these cases linked to the student who died in Italy?

No direct links have been established between the cases; but we do know that the student who died in Italy had the same group B strain as at least one of the other cases.

What health advice has been provided to students at the University of Surrey and the students that were on the trip to Italy?

The University of Surrey has been working with Public Health England to provide advice on meningococcal disease, the signs and symptoms to watch out for, and what steps to take if they become unwell. All close contacts of the cases have been identified and given antibiotics. People who have not had prolonged, close contact with the cases are NOT at any greater risk than the rest of the university population and do not need antibiotics.

What action is the University of Surrey and Public Health England taking? 

Public Health England (PHE) is arranging MenB vaccination for all full-time undergraduate students who live in halls of residence at the University of Surrey. Vaccination is being recommended to protect against the MenB strain responsible for at least two of the cases. 

Why are you vaccinating all full- time undergraduate students who reside in halls of resident at the University of Surrey?

The evidence shows that the highest risk of meningococcal disease is to full-time undergraduate students who live in halls of residence.

Is it compulsory for the students to have the vaccination?

Vaccination is the best way of protecting students against meningitis and septicaemia caused by the circulating MenB strain; therefore it is strongly recommended.

Won’t the teenage meningococcal vaccine protect students?

There is a national outbreak of group W meningococcal disease (MenW) in the UK, which led to the introduction of the teenage MenACWY vaccination programme in 2015. This vaccine will protect against group A, C, W and Y bacteria but not against MenB, which was responsible for at least two of the cases at the University of Surrey.

How will students receive the vaccination?

Arrangements are being made for students to receive the vaccination on the university campus. MenB vaccination consists of two doses given at least 4 weeks apart (both doses are required to provide protection). 

If I receive the MenB vaccine, does this mean I will never get meningococcal disease?

The vaccine does not protect against all meningococcal bacteria and no vaccine is 100% effective; other bacteria can also cause meningitis and septicaemia, so students should still be aware of the signs and symptoms.

Is the vaccine safe and what are the side effects?

The Men B vaccine (Bexsero®) was licensed by the European Medial Association (EMA) in January 2013 and all vaccines are extensively tested for safety and effectiveness before being licensed. This vaccine has been through ten years of trials in the laboratory and among volunteers. Although the vaccine has not been used routinely anywhere else in the world, over 500,000 doses have been given in over 35 countries worldwide in trials. It has now been in routine use in the UK for over 12 months. Many people experience no side effects, but possible side effects of the MenB vaccine (Bexsero) include:

  • Pain, redness or hardness at the injection site
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Joint pain

I think I have already received a meningitis vaccine?

The MenB vaccine was introduced in the UK in 2015 as part of the primary immunisation schedule for babies only. Unless you have a problem with your spleen, complement disorder or you have paid for it privately then it is unlikely you have received this MenB vaccine previously. You may have been offered or received the ACWY meningitis vaccine before starting university but this vaccine does not protect you against MenB therefore you will still require two doses of MenB to ensure you are protected. Unless you are certain you have received two doses of this Men B vaccine (Bexsero®) we recommend you have this now. If by chance you have had this previously it will do you no harm to have further doses.

The symptoms of meningococcal disease.

Where can I find further information?

Further information about the cases in University of Surrey and the vaccination arrangements is available at