Are you a teenager or first year student just about to go away? – you may need to get vaccinated for the main Meningitis types

The NHS is providing a free vaccine for certain strains of meningitis to teenagers, sixth-formers and all first-year students who are starting college or university this autumn. All you need to do is contact your GP surgery to arrange a jab, if medically appropriate.

The NHS Choices website says:

Young teenagers, sixth formers and ‘fresher’ students going to university for the first time are now routinely offered a vaccination to prevent meningitis W disease.

The Men ACWY vaccine protects against four different causes of meningitis and septicaemia – meningococcal (Men) A, C, W and Y diseases.

All 17- and 18-year-olds in school year 13 and first-time university students up to the age of 25 are eligible for the Men ACWY vaccine as part of the NHS vaccination programme.

Meningitis is a group name for a number of diseases which affect the meninges – the lining of the brain. Incidents of one particular type, Meningococcal W, have increased in recent years. But teenagers are an “at risk” group for all strains of meningitis.

First-year students going away to college or university are particularly at risk due to a number of factors: the fact that there are lots of teenagers jostling around in close proximity during the fresher term, for example. A youngster may have built up immunity to their local bugs at home, but when they travel a hundred miles or so to another town or city, the bugs may be slightly different and they may not have immunity to them. Also, in the first few weeks and months of studying, youngsters may not yet have built up a friendship support group who would spot that they are unwell and quickly get them to a doctor or hospital. Symptoms of meningitis can be confused with those of flu or fever. Rapid action is crucial to prevent injury or death.

Signs of meningitis vary but can include fever or vomiting, a stiff neck and severe headache.

If a rash is present, and does not disappear when a glass is present, it can indicate blood poisoning, which is a medical emergency.

There’s more information about this on Meningitis Research Foundation and Meningitis Now websites.

I declare an interest: our young son, Toby, died of meningitis and we have a teenager going away to college this September.