We’ve all seen the devastating images of young children affected by meningitis, resulting in debilitating and life-changing complications. The benefits of the Meningitis B vaccination have been widely publicized in protecting our children in popular media over the recent year or so, but it is not so often that we are reminded that meningitis can affect our teenage population also.
The new Meningitis ACWY vaccine, brand name Menveo, is now available to all university age young adults as part of a public health drive to combat the spread of meningitis at universities. Those aged 25 or older unfortunately won’t be offered the vaccine. Meningitis can be particularly worrisome in this group as early symptoms may often mimic a hangover, and can be underestimated in the new fresher.
What is meningitis?
Meningitis – an inflammation of the tissues lining the brain – causes dizziness, nausea, neck stiffness and in severe cases can result in death. Septicaemia, a complication of meningitis can cause permanent damage to the brain or the nerves if not detected quickly.It is spread through close contact with infected people, meaning that living in crowded halls of residence and mixing with lots of new people can vastly increase your risk of infection.
A strain called Meningococcal W is the latest bad guy of note; it caused just 23 cases of meningitis in the UK in 2009, but that’s risen steadily to 119 cases in 2014. From previously causing around four deaths a year on average, MenW killed 24 people in 2013-2014.
Laboratory confirmed cases invasive meningococcal disease, England and Wales
As you can see from this Public Health England chart, the overall number of cases of meningitis is being driven down, but the MenW is starting to take on a bigger relative significance. (The biggest cause still remains MenB). Sequencing shows the strain is similar to one that is causing high rates of disease in South America.
This means that it’s crucial that we are constantly upping our game and developing ever better vaccines. MenACWY is effective against the W strain, as well as (unsurprisingly) the A, C and Y types of meningitis. Even better news: it is given in a single injection given into the upper arm.
What are the side effects?
Usually just redness and swelling around the injection site, and you may also get a headache that lasts a day or two.
Who can have the vaccine?
It is recommended that you take up the offer of MenACWY even if you’ve already had the MenC vaccine.
Other groups of young people who are eligible for the vaccine include:
- 17 – 18 year olds. GPs started to use a call and recall system to offer them the jab, from August 2015
- 15 – 16 year olds (school year 11). A catch-up campaign will offer them the injection at school from 2016 on
- 13 – 15 year olds (school year 9 or 10) MenACWY will directly replace the MenC vaccination as part of their routine adolescent schools programme
If you’re not on the list, this doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from the protection offered by the MenACWY vaccine. Private clinics are also able to offer the injection, under the brand name Menveo and can even be given to young children from the age of 2 to offer early protection from these potentially life-threatening diseases.