Student vaccination call as cases of MenW strain of meningitis soar


A steep rise in the number of cases of a deadly strain of meningitis has prompted health officials to encourage school leavers to ensure they are vaccinated.

In 2009 there were just 22 cases of MenW, but last year the figure had risen to 209, officials said.

Figures from Public Health England (PHE) also show that between 2009 and 2012, MenW caused around four deaths each year, but provisional figures for 2014/15 show 22 deaths linked to MenW.

Health officials are urging school leavers, particularly those preparing to go to university or college, to get themselves vaccinated to protect themselves against MenW.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said: "Since 2009, there has been a rapid increase in cases of MenW across England, with students particularly at risk.

"Protecting young people from this potentially deadly disease as they embark upon one of the most important periods of their lives is vitally important. The vaccination will save lives and prevent lifelong devastating disability.

"We are encouraging all eligible 17 and 18-year-olds who have just left school to get vaccinated - particularly those heading to college or university.

"Young people and those around them should be alert to the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia. Get vaccinated as soon as possible, remain vigilant and seek urgent medical help if you have concerns for yourself or friends."

The Men ACWY vaccine protects against meningococcal A, C, W and Y diseases - the illnesses can be fatal and survivors are often left with life-changing disabilities.

The vaccination programme is being delivered to teenagers and first-time students.

PHE said young people going to university or college are particularly at risk of meningitis and septicaemia because they mix with so many other students, some of whom are unknowingly carrying the bacteria.

GPs are writing to school leavers to encourage them to get vaccinated, whether they are going to university or not.

Vinny Smith, chief executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation, said: "By getting this free meningitis vaccine from your GP you're not only protecting yourself from a potentially deadly disease, but also protecting others by stopping the spread.

"It's also vital to watch out for your friends if they're unwell. If people do have meningitis it can be like a very bad hangover that quickly gets worse. It can be deadly so act fast and get medical help."

Liz Brown, chief executive of the charity Meningitis Now, said: "Up to a quarter of students carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis compared to one in 10 of the general population. In the UK every university could experience at least one case of meningitis amongst its students within the first term.

"It's vital that those going to uni this autumn are not complacent about the threat of meningitis - we urge them to take up this lifesaving vaccine before they go."