The Royal College of Nursing is urging prospective student nurses to get vaccinated against meningitis and septicaemia before starting university, as the W strain continues to rise.
It said it was encouraging prospective students to make an appointment this month to give time for immunity to build before Freshers’ Week, traditionally held in mid-September.
“The risk is real and getting vaccinated saves lives”
It quoted latest figures from Public Health England showing cases of Meningitis W had been increasing year after year, from 22 cases in 2009 to more than 200 cases last year. The first quarter of 2018 alone saw 73 cases of W strain of meningitis.
Despite a significant proportion of these being among older age groups, it is believed that unvaccinated young people still remain at risk, noted the college.
The RCN highlighted that teenagers and young adults were more likely to carry the bacteria, with an estimated one in four harbouring the disease.
It could spread easily from student to student in crowded university halls and accommodation, it warned.
As cases of MenW continue to rise, the RCN warned that it can be harder to spot due to symptoms less traditionally associated with meningitis, including diarrhoea and vomiting.
“Freshers starting university this September are more at risk from meningitis W”
More usual symptoms of meningitis include a high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, light sensitivity and a rash.
Whilst the MenACWY vaccination is available all year round, nurses have said new university students are particularly at risk as they enter student accommodation.
However, more than 400,000 school leavers per year in England do not receive it, according to Public Health England.
The latest official figures from Public Health England show up to two thirds of those who turned 18 last year did not receive the jab, which was first introduced in 2015.
In addition, school children who previously received the meningitis C vaccine also require the extra catch-up jab, noted the college.
Helen Donovan, professional lead for public health at the RCN, said: “Freshers starting university this September are more at risk from meningitis W, a particularly nasty strain that can kill, or leave people with life-changing disabilities.
RCN warns of ‘profound public health challenges’
Ms Donovan explained how the vaccination was “quick, easy and free”, but warned that students would need to contact their GP in good time.
The vaccination protects against “most strains of the disease” and “can take up to two weeks to become effective”, said Ms Donovan.
“Some may have been travelling over summer or working before university. But the risk is real and getting vaccinated saves lives,” she said.
“If you’re not sure you’ve had the vaccine, contact your surgery now and book an appointment with the practice nurse,” she added.