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Teenagers urged to get meningitis vaccine

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

10th July 2017 – With summer upon us, parents are being urged to remind their teenage school leavers to get the MenACWY vaccine against deadly meningitis and septicaemia, especially if they are heading to university.

Cases of meningitis and septicaemia caused by the W strain are on the rise. This is one of the most aggressive forms of meningitis – and it can be fatal.

Many survivors are left with life-changing disabilities such as lost limbs, deafness and epilepsy.

Meningoccoccal bacteria can be carried at the back of the nose and throat without causing any symptoms. It can be spread through coughing, sneezing and kissing.

Older teenagers are particularly at risk because they often mix closely with a lot of new people, especially in the first year of university. In fact, the first few weeks at university are when the risk of infection is highest in young people without protection.

The MenACWY vaccine remains the best form of protection, with a 100% effectiveness rate in those that have been vaccinated so far.

In the first 18 months of the MenACWY vaccination programme, more than 2 million eligible young people have received the vaccine. The MenACWY not only vaccinates against the W strain but also the A, C and Y strains.

Newly eligible teenagers

Public Health England (PHE) added the MenACWY vaccination to the routine adolescents school programme (school year 9 or 10) from Autumn 2015. This means that there are still a couple of years in which there is a catch-up programme for teenagers in the school year 13 age group.

Teenagers in the school year 13 age group are now eligible for the vaccination at their GP's surgery. This group includes not only those due to leave school this summer but also 17 and 18 year olds not in school who were born between 1 September 1998 and 31 August 1999.

In addition, young adults who have not yet been vaccinated are urged to get the vaccine, especially if they are heading to university or college, whether in the UK or abroad. They remain eligible for the vaccination until their 25th birthday.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, says in a statement: "Young people are particularly at risk as they are carriers of the disease. Being in confined environments with close contact, such as university halls, hostels when travelling, or attending festivals, increase the chances of infection if unprotected."

Vinny Smith, chief executive of Meningitis Research Foundation, comments: "If you don't know whether you are entitled to the free vaccine, our online eligibility check will make it easy to find out. If everyone who is eligible gets it, this will not only protect them but will also protect others by stopping the bacteria from spreading."

Not all forms of meningitis are covered

It is important to be aware that the MenACWY vaccine does not cover all forms of meningitis.

Young people and parents still need to be vigilant in checking for symptoms.

They should seek immediate medical assistance if they are concerned about any signs that could indicate meningitis. The symptoms can appear in any order, and not everyone will develop them, but the most common ones are:

  • Pale, blotchy skin, with or without a rash
  • Irritability and/or confusion
  • Joint or muscle pains
  • Severe headache
  • Dislike of bright lights
  • Stiff neck
  • Convulsions/ seizures
  • Fever
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Drowsiness, difficult to wake up
Reviewed on July 10, 2017

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