The UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) is advising teens, ages 14-18, to be offered the meningitis group W (MenW) vaccine in light of increasing numbers of cases reported in recent years.

 Gram-negative Neisseria meningitidis diplococcal bacteria/CDC
Gram-negative Neisseria meningitidis diplococcal bacteria/CDC

Public Health England (PHE) reports a continuing rise in cases of MenW since 2009. Whilst the number of MenW cases and overall risk remains very low, there has been an increase in prevalence with 117 cases last year.

JCVI Chair, Andrew Pollard said, “We have seen an increase in MenW cases this winter caused by a highly aggressive strain of the bug. We reviewed the outbreak in detail at JCVI and concluded that this increase was likely to continue in future years unless action is taken.

“We have therefore advised the Department of Health to implement a vaccination program for teenagers as soon as possible which we believe will have a substantial impact on the disease and protect the public’s health.”

The Department of Health has accepted JCVI’s advice and is now planning the implementation of a combined MenACWY immunization program.

MenW cases caused by the emergence of a particularly virulent strain have been increasing year-on-year, from 22 cases confirmed in 2009 to 117 confirmed in 2014. Latest figures for January 2015 show that there were 34 laboratory-confirmed MenW cases in England, compared to 18 in January 2014 and 9 in January 2013.

The meningococcal bacteria, Neisseria meningitidis, are the leading cause of septicemia and meningitis in the UK. Six different types of meningococci, known as serogroups A, B, C, W, X, and Y are responsible for most of the disease across the globe. For decades, meningococcal group B has been the main serogroup responsible for over 90% of meningococcal disease, although incidence has been falling since 2000.