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Public Health England (PHE) is reminding unvaccinated first year students to get immunised now against meningitis and septicemia, as it issues updated advice to universities on reducing the spread of this deadly infection.
The appeal comes after the latest PHE figures showed that less than a third (29.5%) of all young people leaving school last summer had been immunised with the Meningitis ACWY vaccine by the end of October. PHE introduced the vaccination programme in 2015 to tackle a sharp increase in the particularly virulent strain (Men W) that poses a high risk for new students.
Working with Universities UK and the leading meningitis charities, PHE has now updated its guidance to higher education institutions to help them raise awareness amongst students of MenACWY vaccination, and the signs and symptoms of the disease.
This update is timely because of the year-on-year increase in cases of Men W across all age groups – from 22 cases in 2009/10 to 210 cases in 2015/16. As cases have increased, the total number of related deaths has also risen, with 1 in 8 people with MenW disease dying from the infection.
New students, especially freshers, are at a higher risk of meningococcal disease. They mix closely with large numbers of new people, some of whom will unknowingly be carrying the bacteria, without any signs or symptoms, enabling it to spread. Last autumn PHE appealed to new students to get vaccinated before starting university or, failing that, soon after arrival. Second year students who missed their vaccination last year are also eligible for immunisation.