Dangerous meningitis strain sweeps Newcastle

News Editor Louise Hall discusses how the new strand of meningitis could affect Newcastle students

17th October 2016

Newcastle University urges students to receive vaccine against meningitis as cases of the potentially deadly virus rise throughout the UK. The bacterial disease, which has a high frequency teenagers and students, can be very serious if not treated quickly.

Certain strains of the virus can cause septicaemia blood poisoning, and permanent damage to brain cells and nerves. The particularly deadly strain, Meningitis W, is causing an increase in cases of both meningitis and septicaemia with nearly 200 cases across England in the past 12 months.

At the beginning of term, the university welfare team sent an email to the student body recommending that students remain vigilant for the signs and symptoms of the early stages of the disease and receive the free vaccination from a GP or doctor’s practice. The email highlighted warning signs including fever, vomiting, severe headache or muscle pains and drowsiness.

The deadly effects of the virus hit close to home when a 19 year old Northumbria University student died from meningitis on 11 September. The student contracted the deadly W strain of the disease as one of the thousands of freshers starting their first term at the university.

In the same month a teenager from Derbyshire almost died from a bacterial form of the disease. The nineteen year old spent nine days in a medically induced coma after organ failure, and now faces surgery to remove her toes and possibly even her feet.

From August 2015 the Men ACWY vaccination programme has been made available to teenagers and first-time students in a bid to protect against cases like these. However this vaccine does not defend against all strains of the virus, so campaigns such as Meningitis Now stress that remaining vigilant for symptoms is vital.

In a bid to raise awareness of the disease and its effects, Newcastle University ran targeted campaigns during Fresher’s week in which they aided students in signing up with local GPs. The University have also published a specific page on their website that provides information about meningitis and its consequences. A Meningitis Awareness event is also being held on the 20th of October in the Robinson library.

This week meningitis awareness cards, from the campaign Meningitis Now, are being distributed in the Student Union. These pocketsize cards provide advice on the common signs of meningitis and how to get emergency medical help if you believe you may have these symptoms. A free Meningitis Now app is also available.

“We would urge all students under 25 years of age going to the university for the first time to see their GP as soon as possible to receive their vaccination

Newcastle students can receive the free vaccine from their local GP surgery. If not registered to a practice in Newcastle, students should locate and visit their nearest practice to register with a GP for their term time address. Saville Medical Group provides student tailored information on their website about how and where students can receive the vaccine.

Sally Ingram, Head of the Student Wellbeing Service at Newcastle University commented: “we would urge all students under 25 years of age, going to university for the first time, to see their GP as soon as possible to receive their vaccination.”

“NHS records of cases of meningitis and septicaemia due to Meningococcal group W have increased from 22 cases in 2009 to 117 in 2014, vaccination and vigilance around the signs and symptoms can help.”

When asked why it is specifically important for students to receive the vaccine Ingram referenced the NHS an NHS statement: “older teenagers and university students are at high risk of infection because many of them mix closely with lots of new people, some of whom may unknowingly carry the meningococcal bacteria. The highest risk of meningitis is in the first year of university, particularly the first few months. As the Men ACWY vaccine is being targeted at those at highest risk, students in their second year or above at university are not included in this vaccination programme.”

Ingram advised students to be aware of a rash of tiny red pinpricks that develops once septicaemia has set in. You can tell this is a meningitis rash if it doesn’t fade under pressure – for instance, when gently pressing a glass against. she also said that “If you, or someone you know, has these symptoms, seek urgent medical advice. Do not wait for a rash to develop. Early diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics are vital.”

For more information visit university Wellbeing pages at http://www.ncl.ac.uk/students/wellbeing for more information.

Any students who have already recieved the vaccine and are wondering about whether repeat vaccines are necessary should consult their GP, so each person’s health needs can be appropriately attended to.

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