Public Health England (PHE) is urging students at universities in the United Kingdom to get vaccinated for Meningitis W.
There have previously been only a small number of cases, but last year that figure rose to 209. Though the injection, known as the Men ACWY vaccine, was made available to students only last year, the PHE is promoting the vaccine due to the 2014-2015 death toll of 22.
While the vaccine protects against the A, C, W, and Y strains of the Meningitis disease, experts are particularly concerned about a very aggressive version of the W strain. As Smitha Mundasad of BBC News reports, there have been nearly 200 cases of Meningitis W in the last 12 months compared to 22 in 2009.
Chief executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation Vinny Smith said that the vaccine benefits both the individual and the community:
“By getting this free meningitis vaccine from your GP you’re not only protecting yourself from a potentially deadly disease but also potentially protecting others by stopping the spread.”
Health officials have urged anyone 25 and younger to get the vaccine. The risk for university students is particularly high, Pickover Ella reports for the Mirror, as they mix so often with many different people.
Symptoms of this viral and potentially deadly disease include fever, vomiting, muscle pain, headache, and cold hands and feet. The PHE has reminded those in the at risk age groups that they should seek medical attention before any serious signs of illness occur, such as a rash.
This is a warning, as Aftab Ali of the Independent points out, to ensure one’s health and safety before a life changing disability occurs. Liz Brown, chief executive at Meningitis Now, has urged safety and conscientious decisions on students parts.
“Up to a quarter of students carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis compared to one in ten of the general population. In the UK, every university could experience at least one case of meningitis amongst its students within the first term,” cautioned Brown.
The threat has become so serious that general practitioners are writing to those graduating and urging them to get vaccinated whether they plan to attend university or not. Protecting young people entering one of the most important times of their lives is vitally important.
This steep rise in cases of meningitis, the Telegraph reminds us, is both deadly and debilitating. Amy Davis, from Surrey, contracted the disease when she was 18 just before she began her university career:
“I spent three weeks in intensive care on life-support. My organs failed, and my family was told I was the most unwell person in the hospital,” Davis said.
It is possible, as in Davis’ case, that the infection spreads all the way into the bloodstream. Those lucky enough to survive such an episode can have toes or even limbs amputated. The life-saving importance of this vaccine has been stressed by the PHE.
The defining factors of meningitis should be discussed amongst those who are at risk and not overlooked as a valuable tool in protecting people from infection. Meningococcal bacteria are harmlessly carried by one in ten people. It is passed through close contact and the symptoms mentioned above can rapidly deteriorate into a much worse state.
“We are encouraging all 17 and 18-year-olds who have just left school to get vaccinated – particularly those heading to college or university,” says Dr. Mary Ramsay, head of immunization at PHE.