Meningitis an increasing threat to young people and student populations

There are meningitis outbreaks at universities throughout the UK every academic year – but this year sees the growth of a more virulent version of the disease.

Students are being encouraged to get vaccination against the life threatening viral disease meningitis as the new term begins. More cases of the aggressive Meningitis W strain have been reported in 2016, especially among younger people.

Young adolescents in university, living in intimate environments and coming from so many different places and environments heighten the risk of meningitis.

In September, a 19 year old Northumbria University student  was killed by the disease.

Fellow student, 20 year old Lyndon Longhome, says: “People are stunned. At first we didn’t know what had happened but there was talk that it was meningitis. A lot of people didn’t know what it was.”

Initial symptoms can be like flu, which makes the disease difficult to diagnose properly.

“Accounts of the meningococcal W strain have risen largely. In 2014-2015, 24% of MEN W were accounted, compared to the small percentage of 1-2% in 2008/2009.” Said Katherine Freeman, information and support officer of The Meningitis Research Foundation.

Meningitis W now accounts for a quarter of all meningitis infections.


Another teenager, 18 year old Charlene Colechin, survived meningitis.

“I kept throwing up, then I had a really bad headache like a migraine, and all my body was aching.” said Charlene (according to the BBC news website).

Miss Colechin is now awaiting surgery to remove her toes and possibly her feet.

Since August 2015, 14 to 18 years olds in the UK have been offered MenACWY vaccine which will protect them from the disease.

Meningitis is most prominent in babies, toddlers and children up to the age of five. However teenagers and young people are at the second highest risk afterwards.

Meningitis is caused by bacteria or pathogens living in the back of the nose, mouth and throat which are then passed on through coughing, sneezing and kissing. Meningococcal bacteria are common and carried harmlessly by about one in 10 people.

The symptoms that GP’s say to look out for are:

  • Fever, cold hands/feet
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Difficulty waking
  • Confusion and irritability
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Pale/blotchy skin with signs of a rash
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck

There have also been calls recently to introduce a vaccine for not just babies but also for children under the age of eleven.

823,348 people signed a petition for the government to offer full vaccine cover, following the death of a two year old, Faye Burdett, after she contracted meningitis.

It took eleven days for the disease to consume her body, through blood poisoning (septicemia) and organ failure.

In England and Wales, the current vaccination system is that babies at two months old receive a vaccine against meningitis B, another at four months old, and finally a booster when they reach twelve months old. This is free on the NHS, however if parents wish for their child to have more vaccinations, they must pay privately.

The price of the vaccination is forever increasing as supply levels of the vaccine ‘Bexsero’ fall and demand is ever increasing.

Since the petition however, the UK government has rejected the proposition of making the Meningitis B vaccine available to all children under eleven years old. The UK government described it as “not cost effective” said a spokesperson for UK government.

“The NHS budget is a finite resource.

“It is therefore essential that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s instructions are underpinned by evidence of cost-effectiveness.”

The shortage of the vaccine is hoped to be relieved. The manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline hopes to have increased stocks in the UK by Winter.

By Charlotte Brooke

About the Author

This article was produced by a student or students on the BA in Journalism at Leeds Beckett University.

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