Uptake of the meningitis MenACWY vaccine has been relatively high in the South West with a regional average of almost 1 in 5 18-year-olds missing their routine vaccine in secondary school, leaving local teenagers unprotected before arriving at university this academic year.
Figures across our region vary considerably with uptake in some local authorities as low as 73.7% and others at 91.7% coverage.
First year or returning students can be at increased risk of meningitis as they mix with large numbers of other students from around the country and overseas. Low immunity levels and a lack of exposure to infections during the pandemic has left young people vulnerable to meningococcal disease, so it’s especially important to remind students to get the MenACWY vaccine if they missed this at school.
Meningococcal disease can cause meningitis – a dangerous swelling of the lining around the brain and spinal column – and septicaemia (blood poisoning) which can both trigger sepsis. Meningococcal disease needs urgent treatment and can be life-threatening.
Some know more than most the devastating impact this disease can have and the importance of ensuring all young people are vaccinated. At just 19, Teygan had a bright future ahead of him and had everything to live for. His mum, Ailsa, describes her devastating and unexpected loss:
“Teygan was 19 when he went to Manchester University to study Russian. He was the middle child of three and the first to go to uni, which he was very excited about.
“He had studied hard for his three A-levels at Truro College and had obtained really good grades to be able to study a language which he was passionate about. A language that was self-taught using books and the internet.
“Teygan soon made friends in his halls. We would have short text messages and phone calls to reassure us he was happy and settling into student life, and coping with his course.
“Although there was no general concerns health wise, he did have a cough which was noticeable when he spoke on the phone. This seemed to persist for a few weeks but never seemed to bother him too much.
“Whenever I brought attention to it, he would say ‘well mum, everyone has a cough!’ and I was reassured by friends who had children at uni that it was probably fresher’s flu – something that every student seems to get.
“Teygan came home for a few days during October half term and apart from tiredness, he gave no cause for concern. He returned to uni and went out for Halloween then out again on the Saturday night.
“On the Sunday, he went to bed and stayed there for the whole day. A check was made on him by someone at the halls at around 8pm and it was said that he gave the impression he was feeling better, but the conversation was held through his door. He was not seen.
“About an hour later, he got up and managed to open his door but collapsed in the hallway. He was found by a friend and they immediately saw that he had a rash. His friend knew it was one of the signs of meningitis and rang for an ambulance straight away. But he could not be saved.
“Today, as a family, we are united in our grief and shock at what has happened. No one had any real awareness of the risks of meningitis at university, neither family nor friends.
“I realise now that we have to change this perception and make it one of the first things families think of when a student starts preparing for university.”
Often confused with a flu, a hangover or COVID-19, students are particularly at risk of missing the early warning signs of meningitis.
A new digital campaign, launched by Meningitis Now, Meningitis Research Foundation, A Life for A Cure, the NHS, UKHSA and GlaxoSmithKline calls for young people to register with a GP, take up the offer of a MenACWY and familiarise themselves with meningitis symptoms.
Parents are reminded to check whether their child is protected by the MenACWY vaccination and to contact their child’s GP if they still require a vaccine.
Professor Dominic Mellon, Deputy Director, UKHSA South West said:
“Young adults who may have missed their routine MenACWY vaccination are still eligible up to their 25th birthday. Check whether you’ve had your MenACWY vaccine and contact your GP if you need to catch up.
“It’s essential we maintain the highest possible uptake to prevent a resurgence of meningitis, which is serious and can be life-threatening.
“Being in confined environments with close contacts, such as university halls, pubs and clubs increases the chances of infection if unprotected.
“The MenACWY vaccine gives protection against four strains of meningococcal disease and is the most effective way of protecting against infection.
“However, it does not protect against meningococcal B (MenB), which is why it is still so important to make sure you are aware of the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease including vomiting, severe headache, unexplained temperature rise, dislike of bright lights, neck stiffness, a non-blanching rash, drowsiness, and altered levels of consciousness.”
Dr Tom Nutt, chief executive of the charity Meningitis Now, said:
“Meningitis is a devastating disease that can strike anyone at any time and leave havoc in its wake. Many young people will know of someone from their community whose life, and that of their family and friends, has been torn apart by its impact.
“With vaccination the only way to protect yourself against the misery this disease inflicts we’d urge all those who haven’t yet taken advantage of this free MenACWY vaccination to do so as soon as possible. The good news is that by doing so you will not just be protecting your own health but that of your friends and the wider community too.”
The MenACWY vaccine protects against four strains of meningococcal disease, but it does not protect against all strains that can cause meningitis and septicaemia, and does not protect against Meningitis B.
Having this vaccine will reduce the risk of getting meningitis and septicaemia, but it is therefore still important to be vigilant in being able to spot early symptoms of infection and to seek prompt medical assistance if you are concerned about family or friends who might be becoming unwell.
Symptoms of infection may include:
– Fever, cold hands and feet
– Severe headache, joint or muscle pains
– Stiff neck
– Dislike of bright lights
– Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
– Pale, blotchy skin with or without a rash, that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it
– Irritability and/or confusion
– Drowsiness, difficult to wake up
Note: Not everyone will develop these symptoms and they can appear in any order. If in doubt seek advice from a medical professional
For more information, visit: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/meningitis/
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