Public Health England is urging students to get MenACWY and MMR vaccines before the start of the new college or university year to ensure they’re protected against deadly diseases
The MenACWY vaccine, introduced in 2015 in response to an increase in Men W cases among young people, is routinely offered to those in school years 9 and 10 to protect them against 4 meningococcal strains that include the aggressive W strain of the disease. Anyone who has missed out can still get vaccinated free of charge, through their GP until their 25th birthday.
The MenACWY vaccine is especially important for students about to enter university, who are at increased risk of meningococcal infection. It is also important for students to be aware of signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease, as the vaccine does not protect against all forms of this disease, and seeking early medical help for themselves or a friend could be life-saving.
Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain) and septicemia (blood poisoning) that are very serious and can kill, especially if not diagnosed early. They are more easily spread when lots of people mix closely for the first time.
Dr. Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisations at PHE, said: “We know that colleges and universities can be hotspots for the spread of measles and meningococcal disease.
“First-year students especially are at increased risk of meningococcal infection if they are unvaccinated – which makes sense when they spend large amounts of time with new people in confined environments such as university halls.
“We, therefore, encourage students to check with their GP that they are up to date with their MMR and MenACWY vaccinations before term starts – it’s never too late to protect themselves and their friends from these highly infectious and serious diseases.”
Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can have serious consequences. It can be more severe in young people and adults, often leading to hospital admissions. Measles starts with cold-like symptoms and sore red eyes, followed by a high temperature and a red-brown blotchy rash.
This reminder comes in light of recent measles outbreaks across England and Europe. Between 1 January and 13 August 2018 there have been 828 laboratory-confirmed measles cases in England. Cases were reported in most areas with London (291), the South East (169), South West (138), West Midlands (85) and Yorkshire and Humberside (80) reporting the most cases (based on provisional figures).
Some students who are now of university or college age may have missed out on their MMR vaccination when they were younger, as MMR uptake was as low as 80% in 2003, which means that up to 20 in 100 young adults could be unprotected.
The MMR vaccine is available for free to anyone who has not received two doses as a child.
Meningitis and septicemia
Meningitis and septicemia can develop suddenly and can kill or leave people with life-changing disabilities and long-term health problems. Symptoms include a blotchy rash that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it, fever, aching muscles and joints and a stiff neck. The W strain can also cause vomiting and diarrhoea.
The MenACWY vaccine does not protect against every strain that can cause meningitis and septicemia, so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms so that young people can seek quick medical help if they become unwell, either themselves or their fellow students.
If you think you’ve got either measles or meningitis, call NHS 111 straight away.
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