First-year university and college students will this year be offered vaccination to protect them against a deadly strain of meningitis, known as MenW.
GPs will be inviting those aged 17 and 18 to come for vaccination protection against meningitis (inflammation of the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning) caused by four meningococcal strains including MenW.
The vaccine is being introduced because there has been a rapid increase in cases of the highly aggressive strain of meningococcal disease, group W.
In 2009 there were 22 cases of meningitis caused by the MenW strain. By 2014 there were 117, and it now accounts for about a quarter of all laboratory-confirmed meningococcal cases in England. MenW also has a higher death rate than other strains of the disease.
As well as MenW, the vaccination also protects against other forms of the disease – meningococcal disease types A, C and Y – which can also be fatal or cause long-term complications for those affected. “The rise in MenW is particularly worrying as it causes more severe illness and a higher death rate than other strains,” said Chris Head, of the Meningitis Research Foundation. “That is why we are urging all who are eligible to make sure they get the vaccine.”