Public Health England is urging new students to ensure they get vaccinated against the meningococcal C (MenC) infection before beginning university in September.
In the UK, all children are offered MenC vaccine to protect them against MenC infection but, as the protection offered by the vaccine can wane, a booster for teenagers was added last year.
For the next few years, university freshers will also be eligible for vaccination, until the teenagers who have had the booster reach university age.
Dr Shamez Ladhani, an expert on meningococcal disease for Public Health England said: “Meningococcal C disease is a rare but life-threatening infection that occurs mainly in children and young adults.
“Students starting university and mixing with lots of new people, some of whom may unknowingly carry the meningococcal bacteria, are at risk of infection.
”As the protection offered by the infant MenC vaccine wanes over time we are recommending university Freshers get a booster before they begin university, even if they received it as a young child.
“The addition of the ‘Freshers’ MenC immunisation will contribute to the highly successful vaccination programme we have in the UK.”
Dr Shona Arora, Centre Director for the Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire Public Health England Centre said: “The MenC booster is available to any student entering university for the first time born after September 1995 and who received the MenC vaccine under the age of ten year, or any student of any age entering or being at university who is unvaccinated against MenC disease.
“Anyone born before September 1995 and who received the MenC vaccination at secondary school won’t need another dose.
“If you can’t remember, the best thing to do is to check with your doctor before you go off to university. Ideally, Freshers should have the MenC vaccination at least two weeks before they go away to study.
“However, anyone starting university without the booster should arrange to get it as soon as possible, via their university or college health centre or GP. If in doubt, there is no harm in having an extra dose.”
Matthew Dominey, Screening and Immunisation Manager for NHS England in the South West said: “Starting university is an exciting time, but it is also when students are at increased risk of contracting meningitis, as they come into close contact with many other students.
“Symptoms can include the sudden onset of a high fever, a severe headache, a dislike of bright lights, vomiting, painful joints and a rash which can appear anywhere on the body.
“By checking in with your GP and having the Meningitis C booster around two weeks before going to university, you can protect yourself, your family and your new friends from this dangerous disease.”
The vaccine is also important for students coming to study from abroad who are unable to get the vaccine at home. Again, they should obtain it as soon as possible.