Young people going to college or university this autumn are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated against meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning) due to the MenW bug, one of the most aggressive and deadly strains of meningitis.
Cases of MenW have been increasing over the last few years, from 22 cases in 2009 to over 200 cases in the past 12 months.
There are a number of strains of the bug that causes meningitis and the vaccination gives protection against four of them: MenA, MenC, MenW and MenY. These illnesses can be deadly and survivors are often left with life-changing disabilities.
Young people going to university or college are particularly at risk because they mix with so many other students, some of whom are unknowingly carrying the bacteria. But anyone in this age group is strongly advised to get the vaccination – whether starting college or not.
GPs are writing to all 17 and 18 year olds (school year 13, born from 1 September 1997 to 31 August 1998) to encourage them to get vaccinated as soon as possible. 19-year-olds who missed getting vaccinated last year (anyone born from 1 September 1996 to 31 August 1997) can also be vaccinated by their GP, as can anyone aged up to 25 who is starting university this autumn.
Ideally young people should get vaccinated before term starts – to ensure immunity. But they can still get the jab from their new GP at their college or university once they get there. MenW can develop suddenly and progress rapidly. Early symptoms include headache, vomiting, muscle pain, fever, and cold hands and feet. Students should be alert to the signs and symptoms and should not wait for a rash to develop before seeking medical attention urgently. Students are also encouraged to look out for their friends, particularly if they go to their room unwell.
The vaccine not only protects those who are vaccinated, but also helps control the spread of the disease among the wider population. With so many other things to think about it is easy to see how many young people might not get around to having the vaccination, so if you know someone in this age-group, perhaps your child, grandchild, relative or friend, you can do your part to help by reminding them to make an appointment.