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Meningitis in students – what you need to know

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In the frenzy of excitement and emotion between A level results and a young adult leaving for university, it is unlikely that vaccinations will be one of your priorities. I hope this blog post will change that. There is a new meningitis vaccine available for young adults, and you will have to book an appointment with your GP practice to get it.
Five reasons why you need to think about meningitis in students – right now!
  1. Meningitis is one of the major health risks for young adults in their first year at university. They are the second most ‘at risk’ group for contracting this disease.
  2. Most first year students opt to live in halls. Here they will be living in very close proximity to hundreds of people who they have never encountered before, and who come from all four corners of the country (and from overseas).
  3. One in four of these new friends (15 – 19 year olds) WILL be carrying meningococcal bacteria, which can cause meningitis in the back of their throats, compared to one in ten of the UK population.
  4. The bacteria can be passed to your young adult by coughing, sneezing, and intimate kissing. Absolutely everyone gets a cold in their first year at university, so that’s a lot of coughing and sneezing. You can use your own imagination about the intimate kissing!
  5. They do not have a diligent mum and dad watching over them. They may become seriously ill without their friends and flatmates being aware. Meningitis does not hang around – it makes people very ill, very quickly.
This is what you should do
A particularly aggressive strain of Men W is causing disease in all age groups, but there has been a significant increase in university students. This is what you can do to help:
  • Make an appointment with your GP surgery for your young adult to have the vaccination today. Your GP will know which one – it is called the Men ACWY, and was introduced in August 2015
  • Talk to your young adult about meningitis. Tell them about the symptoms and what to look out for in themselves and friends. Make sure that they know how to call for medical help if they’re concerned
  • Get some resources from Meningitis now and Meningitis Research Foundation. There is even an app which can be downloaded, and symptoms cards to use as a reference
I stumbled across this information accidentally and, as an epidemiologist, researched it a little more thoroughly. My own daughter will be moving into halls in less than a month and she was vaccinated a few days ago. She is a capable, independent young woman who makes her own decisions, and because I want her to stay that way I got involved and made the appointment for her. As I’ve said many times on this blog before, you never stop being a mum.
Please do share this post with anyone you know who has children leaving for university next month, so we can raise awareness of meningitis in students. 
Dr Sharon Parry is a Mum of three and a former public health research fellow. She now works as a freelance writer and shares useful tips and her thoughts and experiences of having kids in primary school, high school and university in Wales on her website