The University of Otago’s Student Health Services is encouraging students to be immunised against meningococcal disease over the summer break.

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

There has been an increase in meningococcal disease in New Zealand over the past few years and an increase in cases at the University of Otago this year. In recent months a more virulent strain of meningococcal disease (Group W) has been identified, mostly in Northland.

Student Health Services operations manager Margaret Perley says meningococcal disease is a very serious, life threatening disease which for survivors can also cause significant permanent disability. Adolescents and young adults aged between 15 to 19 years are in a high risk group.

“We strongly recommend all students and particularly those living in residential colleges be vaccinated against meningococcal disease,” she says.

While there is an increase of cases nationally currently, Ms Perley says there are usually at least one or two cases of meningococcal disease at the University of Otago annually. This year there were four cases of meningococcal disease within the student population. The most common strain in the Southern DHB region is meningococcal B.

Several people have died of meningococcal disease in New Zealand this year with some of these deaths caused by the Group W strain (as opposed to A, B, C, Y and Z). Historically, most deaths in New Zealand have been caused by Group B. Group W has a higher fatality rate than B and C.

Student Health Services clinical group leader nursing, Katherine Martin, says three injections are required to provide optimal protection against current circulating strains of meningococcal disease: two of the meningitis B vaccine, which need to be at least four weeks apart and one of the meningitis ACYW vaccine.

“We would encourage students attending university next year to begin their immunisation schedule as soon as possible, to ensure they have coverage for the start of the academic year in 2019,” Mrs Martin says.

Students are encouraged to book a 15 minute nurse appointment for their vaccination. Students residing out of Dunedin are encouraged to contact their local general practice to discuss vaccination. Any necessary follow-up vaccinations can be carried out at Student Health Services in Dunedin.