A deadly strain of meningitis has increased 10-fold since 2009 and now nurses are warning new students that they only have 2 weeks to get vaccinated before university.
Figures from Public Heath England (PHE) reveal that there have been more than 200 cases of meningitis W (MenW) in the past year.
‘Freshers starting university this September are more at risk from meningitis W, a particularly nasty strain that can kill, or leave people with life-changing disabilities,’ said Helen Donovan, professional lead for public health at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
‘Vaccination offers protection against most strains of the disease, and it’s quick, easy and free, but they need to contact their GP in good time. The vaccine can take up to two weeks to become effective. Some may have been travelling over summer or working before university. But the risk is real and getting vaccinated saves lives.’
There were 73 cases of MenW in the first quarter of 2018 and while many older people are vulnerable, young people are also at risk.
Thousands of students will descend onto university campuses in September, which can then become the ideal environment for viruses to spread.
Two thirds of those who turned 18 last year had not received a vaccination and PHE claim that this accounts for more than 400,000 school leavers.
‘Teenagers are the second most at-risk group of contracting meningitis after babies and toddlers - and up to a quarter of students carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis, compared to one in ten of the general population,’ said Tom Nutt, chief executive of Meningitis Now, a UK meningitis charity.
‘It’s vital to be up to date with vaccinations but these won’t protect your child against all types of the disease. Make sure they know the signs and symptoms and that fast action saves lives and improves outcomes.’
The meningitis vaccine, introduced in 2015, provided protection against MenW for the first time so that those who had previously had the meningitis C jab had to be given a follow-up. Vaccines are available at local GP surgeries and are available all year round.