University Students Should Remain Aware of Meningitis Risk
Meningitis is still here. This is the current message from The Meningitis Research Foundation this Meningitis Awareness Week. Although cases of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia dropped significantly in England and Wales during lockdown (current cases are less than ⅓ of what they currently are for this time of the year), it is a disease that spreads easily through close contact. As lockdown restrictions ease, cases are expected to rise.
The Meningitis Research Foundation has previously reported that university students need to be aware of the dangers of meningitis and septicaemia. Older teenagers and new university students tend to be at higher risk of infection because many of them mix closely with lots of new people, some of whom may unknowingly carry the meningococcal bacteria at the back of their nose and throat. In fact, students are the second biggest at-risk group for contracting meningitis, after babies and toddlers. This is partly because the bacteria that causes life-threatening meningitis lives in 25% of students, as opposed to 10% of the general population. Even in current times, where socialising is restricted, students moving into halls of residence or attending smaller social gatherings, will be coming into contact with new people.
For university students, vaccination can protect against four strains of the meningococcal bacteria – A, C, W and Y and all new students are strongly urged to have the MenACWY vaccine (called Nimenrix) if they didn’t get this in year 9 or 10 of school. First-year students who have not had the vaccine, including overseas students, remain eligible for free vaccination from the NHS, up to their 25th birthday.
Even students who have received the MenACWY vaccination need to be aware of the risk and symptoms of meningitis, as the vaccine does not protect against all strains. For example, meningitis B causes the majority of meningococcal disease in the UK and although a meningitis B vaccine has been included in the new baby vaccination programme since 2015, there is currently no meningitis B vaccination programme for older age groups.
A previous survey showed that a quarter of students believe a rash is present in all cases of meningitis, when in fact there are some types of meningitis where a rash does not appear at all. Students need to be vigilant of other symptoms including fever, vomiting, dislike of bright lights and neck stiffness and not only look out for the rash. Click here for further information on meningitis symptoms to look out for.
Delays in diagnosing and treating meningitis can have devastating consequences for patients, including amputation, brain injury and death. I have experience of dealing with cases involving delayed diagnosis and treatment of meningitis. If you suspect that you or someone you love has been injured as a result of a negligent delay, I would be happy to discuss this with you