Students, including overseas students, who discover that they are not adequately protected by two doses of MMR vaccine and a Group C meningitis jab will be advised to make arrangements to be immunised at the earliest opportunity.
“We tend to see more cases of meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia as winter approaches and we’ve had numerous outbreaks of mumps in our colleges and universities in recent years," warns Professor Qutub Syed, Director of Health Protection Agency North West.
“Students who live and work together in close proximity are particularly vulnerable to mumps if they are not adequately protected. It’s a highly infectious disease and it tends to spread amongst teenagers and young adults who were not vaccinated against it as children.”
The message to students who were not given two doses of MMR vaccine as children is that it’s not too late. Anyone up to the age of 25 is entitled to be immunised free of charge on the NHS. Two doses of MMR vaccine are necessary to guarantee immunity.
“We also have a very effective vaccine against Group C meningococcal disease," Professor Syed says. "The majority of children who were born after the vaccine was introduced in 1999 will be fully protected, which is why we see so few cases of Group C meningitis in the UK nowadays.
“However, we do not yet have a vaccine for Group B meningococcal disease and, whilst we are seeing fewer cases than we used to, we still see an increase in the winter months. It’s important for students to know the signs and symptoms to look out for and to seek immediate medical help whenever it is suspected.”
Meningococcal infection can cause meningitis (inflammation of the brain) or septicaemia (blood poisoning). Common early symptoms, which are not always present, may include:
- A rash that does not fade when pressed with a glass (known as the tumbler test) due to bleeding under the skin
- Sudden onset of high fever
- A severe and worsening headache (without any other obvious cause)
- Severe neck stiffness
- Dislike of bright lights
- Very cold hands and feet
- Drowsiness that can deteriorate into a fever
Local academic institutions are being asked to remind all UK born students that they should be up to date with MMR and meningitis C, reminding them as to when they should have received the immunisations so they can check that they did; ensure that adequate plans have been drawn up with the local Health Protection Unit to ensure good public health management of any cases of meningitis that arise during term time; and ask non-UK born students to ensure that they are properly protected against measles and mumps by having 2 doses of MMR vaccine and ensure that they are protected against meningitis C by having 1 dose of the meningitis C vaccine.
• For further information on these infections, please go to: www.hpa.org.uk or NHS Choices at: www.nhs.uk