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Meningitis W: Students urged to get vaccine

17 August 2016

Meningitis W: Students urged to get vaccine

Public Health England says the jab will help protect against meningitis W in particular - a sometimes deadly strain that is on the rise.

Officials say new students are at risk as they often mix closely with groups of unfamiliar people - some who may unknowingly carry the bug.

Wales has also renewed calls for school-leavers to take up the jab.

The injection - known as the Men ACWY vaccine - was first introduced for new university students in the UK last year.

It protects against the A, C, Y and W strains of the disease - all forms that can cause death or disability.

But health experts say they are particularly concerned about "a highly aggressive strain" of meningitis W bacteria.

Some 22 people got meningitis W in 2009 in England, compared with almost 200 people in the last 12 months.

Meningitis W infection is fatal in one in 10 cases and can lead to long-term health problems including deafness, epilepsy and amputations.

Amy Davis, 24, from Surrey, got meningitis W when she was 18 years old, a few months before she was due to start college.

She said: "At first I thought I had the flu and felt very tired. But by the next day, I was covered in a rash, felt extremely unwell and was rushed to hospital.

"I spent three weeks in intensive care on life-support. My organs failed, and my family was told I was the most unwell person in the hospital."

The infection spread to her bloodstream and bones and damaged her feet. She had toes on both feet amputated, and later her left leg was also amputated.

She added: "The jab was not available when I was 18. I would encourage everyone to get the vaccine who can.

"It takes just five minutes, and is just one injection that can save your life or save you from getting horrific side-effects."

GPs in England are inviting 17 and 18-year-olds to come for a vaccine. First-time students under the age of 25 are eligible too.

People who missed out on the jab last year should also see their doctor, experts say.

And though students are the focus of the campaign, other young people are strongly advised to get the jab - whether they are planning on attending university or college or not.

Dr Mary Ramsay, at Public Health England, said students needed to remain vigilant to signs of the disease.

She added: "Protecting young people from this potentially deadly disease as they embark upon one of the most important periods of their lives is vitally important.

"The vaccination will save lives and prevent lifelong devastating disability."

Vinny Smith, of the Meningitis Research Foundation, said: "By getting this free meningitis vaccine students are not only protecting themselves from a potentially deadly disease, but also protecting others by stopping the spread.

"It is also vital to watch out for friends if they are unwell. If they have meningitis it can be like a very bad hangover that quickly gets worse. It can be deadly so it is important to act fast and get medical help."

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