Public Health England (PHE) is reminding unvaccinated first year students to get immunised now against meningococcal disease, as it issues updated advice on reducing the spread of this deadly infection.
The appeal comes after the latest PHE figures showed that less than a third (29.5%) of all young people leaving school last summer had been immunised with the Men ACWY vaccine by the end of October. PHE introduced the vaccination programme in 2015 to tackle a sharp increase in a particularly virulent strain of meningococcal W disease (Men W) that poses a high risk for new students.
Working with Universities UK and the leading meningitis charities, PHE has now updated its guidance in response to the year-on-year increase in cases of Men W across all age groups - from 22 cases in 2009/10 to 210 cases in 2015/16. As cases have increased, the total number of related deaths has also risen, with 1 in 8 people with MenW disease dying from the infection.
New students are at a higher risk of meningococcal disease. They mix closely with large numbers of new people, some of whom will unknowingly be carrying the bacteria, without any signs or symptoms, enabling it to spread. Last autumn PHE appealed to new students to get vaccinated before starting university or, failing that, soon after arrival. Second year students who missed their vaccination last year are also eligible for immunisation.
Public Health England shares the following advice:
- Make sure you tell someone if you feel unwell, and keep an eye on friends who are ill
- Seek medical advice immediately if someone has concerning symptoms, or their condition appears to be getting worse
- Meningococcal disease can develop suddenly, usually as meningitis or septicaemia. Early symptoms include severe diarrhoea and vomiting, headaches, muscle pain, fever, and cold hands and feet. It can kill, or leave people with life-changing disabilities or health problems, like hearing loss, brain damage or the loss of a limb.
The vaccine, which also provides protection against the Men A, C and Y strains, not only protects those vaccinated, but it will help control the spread of the disease in the wider population.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at PHE, said:
“Many students will have been vaccinated before they left home for university and some will have got vaccinated by their new GP last term. However, for those who haven’t, it is not too late. First year students remain at significantly greater risk than most young people from this deadly disease. So I would strongly urge them to go and see their GP to get vaccinated – it could save their life.”