NHS England and Public Health England (PHE) are calling for students in Bath to get the MenACWY vaccine, as cases of meningococcal disease are anticipated to spike this winter.
All teenagers aged 18 and 19 (born between 01 September 1996 and 31 August 1997) are eligible to receive the vaccine for free, regardless of whether they’re studying or pursuing other activities.
Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning).
Both forms of the disease are very serious and can kill, especially if not diagnosed early.
PHE figures show that cases of meningococcal peak each year during winter – December through to March (see graph below), making it important for students to protect themselves as soon as possible.
Dr Ardiana Gjini, Consultant in Public Health Medicine at NHS England, said: “Meningococcal disease usually peaks in the winter months, so it’s important that students get themselves protected and make an appointment for vaccination with their GP as soon as they return home for the Festive Holidays.
“We know that a number of young people and Fresher’s in our area (Bath) have already been vaccinated but we’d like to see many more of them, who are specifically at risk from this disease, take up the offer for the free MenACWY vaccination.
“It’s essential that parents talk to their teenagers about the importance of getting vaccinated, before it’s too late”.
The call for students to get vaccinated follows the introduction of a new MenACWY vaccination programme in August that offers teenagers protection against four common meningococcal strains.
The MenACWY vaccine was introduced this year in response to a rapid increase in cases of a highly aggressive strain of group W meningococcal disease.
Cases of MenW have been increasing year-on-year, from 22 cases in 2009/10 to 176 in 2014/15. It is currently responsible for around a quarter of all laboratory-confirmed meningococcal cases in England.
Joanne Yarwood, National Immunisation Programme Manager at PHE, said: “As a mum of teenagers, I know how busy their lives can be, and so I urge all parents of 18 and 19 year olds to put a MenACWY vaccine on their family’s list of essential things to do before the festive holiday period.
“Meningitis can be deadly and survivors are often left with severe disabilities as a result of this terrible disease. Encouraging your son or daughter to have the MenACWY vaccine could save their life, or prevent them from permanent disability.
“Start 2016 protected against meningococcal disease.”
Meningococcal disease develops rapidly and early symptoms include headaches, vomiting, muscle pain and a fever with cold hands and feet. A rash often develops at a later stage.
Vinny Smith, CEO at Meningitis Research Foundation, said: “As Christmas draws near, we are also approaching the peak time for meningitis and septicaemia.
“This is a great opportunity for students who haven’t already had the MenACWY vaccine to start the New Year protected against this deadly strain.
“But remember, meningitis and septicaemia strike fast, and some strains can’t be prevented. It’s important to know the symptoms and be prepared to act quickly if you get ill or if you are worried about someone who is ill.”