RCN urges university students to get meningitis jab before term starts

First-year students are at elevated risk of meningococcal infection

First-year students are at elevated risk of meningococcal infection

Picture: Alamy

The RCN and Public Health England (PHE) are urging students starting university to protect themselves against meningitis before the start of term.

Colleges and universities are hotspots for the bacteria that causes the disease, PHE said, and new students should ensure they have been vaccinated.

The combined MenACWY vaccine protects against strains including group W meningococcal disease (Men W).

Building immunity

The RCN said those starting at university should be vaccinated this month, to give time for immunity to build up before freshers' week.

PHE consultant paediatrician Shamez Ladhani said: 'We know colleges and universities can be hotspots for the spread of meningococcal disease.

‘We need eligible people to keep getting the vaccine every year to ensure that this downward trend continues’

Shamez Ladhani, PHE consultant paediatrician

'First-year students especially are at increased risk of meningococcal infection if they are unvaccinated. They spend large amounts of time with new people in confined environments, such as university halls.'

Vaccination is quick, easy and free

The combined MenACWY vaccination was introduced in 2015 in response to a large increase in infections caused by Men W.

RCN professional lead for public health Helen Donovan said: 'Freshers are more at risk from meningitis W, a particularly nasty strain that can kill, or leave people with life-changing disabilities.

'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.'

Decline in cases

The number of cases of meningitis and septicaemia caused by Men W rose from 22 in 2009-10 to 225 in 2016-17, PHE figures show.

Provisional figures for 2017-18 show the first decline since 2009, with numbers dropping to 192.

The greatest drop in cases last year was among young people in the 15 to 19 years age group.

Dr Ladhani said: 'We need eligible people to keep getting the vaccine every year to ensure this downward trend continues.

'We encourage students to check with their GP that they are up to date with their MenACWY vaccination before term starts. It's never too late to protect themselves and their friends from such highly infectious diseases.'

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