Charity Meningitis Now has renewed its call for students to take action to protect themselves from a particularly deadly strain of meningitis this winter, as figures for England suggest that less than half of those eligible to receive a free new vaccine have yet to do so.
With take up anticipated to be similar across all countries of the UK, this means up to 250,000 students out of this year’s intake of half a million could be putting their lives at risk
All teenagers aged 17 and 18 are eligible to receive the ACWY vaccine for free since August last year. Older first-time university entrants aged 19 to 25 can also claim the free vaccination, introduced to combat the rise in Men W cases in adolescents.
Cases of bacterial meningitis can spike during the winter months and students are particularly susceptible. Teenagers are the second most at risk group of contracting meningitis after babies and toddlers.
Sue Davie, Meningitis Now chief executive, said: “Up to a quarter of students carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis compared to one in ten of the general population.
“Over 12 per cent of all cases occur in the 14 to 24 age group, with first year students being at particular risk.
“It’s vital that students are not complacent about the threat of meningitis - we urge them to take up this lifesaving vaccine.”
The call has been backed by the charity’s Young Ambassador and University of Portsmouth student Louise Poole, who contracted meningitis in 2007 and had the ACWY vaccine in August last year.
“I needed absolutely no encouragement to get this vaccination”, she said. “Anything to prevent this disease is worth doing.
“Students should ask themselves ‘do you want to die?’ If the answer is ‘no’, then get the vaccine.
“For me this is huge, because honestly, having meningitis sucks.”
There are not vaccines for all strains of meningitis and advice from the charity is for students to also learn the signs and symptoms of the disease, and look out for themselves and their friends.
Meningitis symptoms can include sickness, fever, fever with cold hands and feet, muscle pain, headaches, confusion, irritability, dislike of bright lights and a rash that doesn’t fade under pressure. Students should seek urgent medical help if they suspect the disease.
Meningitis Now exists to save lives and rebuild futures through research, awareness and support.
To request its free signs and symptoms card or download a free app visit the website www.meningitis.now.org or call the charity’s Freephone Helpline on 0808 80 10 388.