Health officials in the United Kingdom have reported a progressive increase in cases of the deadly bacterium, Meningitis W (MenW), prompting calls for university students to get vaccinated.

Meningitis symptoms/Public domain image/Mikael Häggström
Meningitis symptoms/Public domain image/Mikael Häggström

Cases of MenW have been increasing year-on-year, from 22 cases in 2009 to over 200 cases in the past 12 months, according to Public Health England.

Young people going on to university or college are particularly at risk of meningitis and septicemia because they mix with so many other students, some of whom are unknowingly carrying the bacteria. But anyone in this age group is strongly advised to get the vaccination – whether starting college or not.

GPs will be writing to the following groups to encourage them to get vaccinated at their surgery as soon as possible:

  • all 17 and 18 year olds (school year 13, born from 1 September 1997 to 31 August 1998)
  • 19-year-olds who missed getting vaccinated last year (anyone born from 1 September 1996 to 31 August 1997)

PHE is also advising anyone aged up to 25 who is starting university to get vaccinated by their GP.

Ideally young people should get vaccinated before term starts – to ensure immunity. But anyone can still get the jab from their new GP in their college town.

The MenACWY vaccination program was introduced last year in response to a large increase in infections caused by a highly aggressive strain of group W meningococcal bacteria (Men W).

The vaccine not only protects those who are vaccinated, but also helps control the spread of the disease among the wider population. This is the second year the vaccine is being offered to this age group.

Liz Brown, Meningitis Now Chief Executive, said:

Up to a quarter of students carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis compared to one in ten of the general population. In the UK every university could experience at least one case of meningitis among its students within the first term.

It’s vital that those going to Uni this autumn are not complacent about the threat of meningitis – we urge them to take up this lifesaving vaccine before they go.