Freshers urged to get meningitis jab before new term
Students who have just finished their A-levels and are planning to go to university are being encouraged by the Public Health Agency (PHA) to get a vaccine that can help protect against meningitis and septicaemia.
The MenACWY vaccine helps protect against meningococcal disease, which new university students are at particularly high risk of contracting in the first weeks of term, when they will come into contact with many new people of a similar age.
Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning). Both diseases are very serious and, especially if not diagnosed early, they can kill.
Dr Lucy Jessop, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, explained: “Older teenagers are at higher risk of getting MenW disease, so you need to get vaccinated to help protect yourself. It will also reduce the risk of you carrying the bacteria, therefore also helping to protect those around you.
“Older teenagers and those starting university for the first time usually mix with larger groups of people, making them more exposed to various infections and diseases. The best way to protect against meningococcal A, C, W, or Y disease is to get the vaccine before starting university. Therefore, if you are aged up to 25 years and are starting university for the first time, we recommend you arrange to get the vaccine from your GP before you go to university.
“It is really important to have it before you start university, and if not, to get it in the first week of term. The start of the university year might seem far off, but it will come around quickly so now is the time to get the vaccine and tick it off your to-do list.
“Even if you have recently had the MenC vaccine, for example in school, you should still get the Men ACWY vaccine. It will increase your protection against MenC and help provide protection against the three other meningococcal groups.”
The MenACWY vaccine has been offered in schools and by GPs since 2015 for those born from 02/07/96 to those in school year 11. You only need to have the MenACWY vaccine once. If you have already received the MenACWY vaccine in school or from your GP at the age of 14 years or over you do not require an additional dose of the vaccine.
If your date of birth is between 02/07/96 and 01/07/01 but you have not yet received the vaccine, you can still request it from your GP even if you are not planning to go to university.
MenW was rare in the UK but there has been an increase in cases in recent years.
It is still important to know the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia and seek medical help immediately if you, or someone you know, experiences them.
Look out for any of these symptoms:
- Fever, cold hands and feet
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Drowsiness, difficult to wake up
- Irritability and/or confusion
- Dislike of bright lights
- Severe headache or muscle pains
- Pale, blotchy skin with or without a rash
- Stiff neck.
The early symptoms of meningococcal disease are similar to those of flu, so you need to be able to recognise the symptoms very quickly even if you have been vaccinated as the vaccines offered through the routine immunisation programme do not protect against all forms of the disease.
There are five main groups of meningococcal bacteria that can cause meningitis and septicaemia – A, B, C, W and Y. The same bacteria that cause these serious diseases can also be carried in the back of the nose and throat, especially in young adults.
For more information on the MenACWY vaccination programme visit www.pha.site/ACWY