Students and staff may have specific vulnerabilities related
to their age, to health risks in countries they travel from or to, or to
transitions such as moving
from home, going from children's to adult services, and growing up and exploring new
Health England (and our devolved nation equivalents), we work with the
public, private and third sectors to address both long-term challenges such as
student mental health and specific risks such as Ebola.
A current public health challenge we are working together to
combat is meningococcal disease. We know that UK higher education students are
at increased risk of this disease compared to their peers. This is particularly
true for first years in the opening weeks of the autumn term.
Usually presenting as meningitis (inflammation of the brain
lining) or septicaemia (blood poisoning), this is a potentially life-changing –
and sometimes fatal – disease. There is currently an outbreak of particularly
nasty strain of meningococcal group W (MenW) disease in the UK. To protect
against this, all 2015 and 2016 school leavers have been offered the MenACWY
vaccine. If they missed the offer, they can still have the vaccine free of
charge from their GP.
Public Health England and Universities UK, in partnership
with the Meningitis Research Foundation, Meningitis Now, NHS National Services
Scotland, Public Health Wales and Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland, have
just revised UK
guidance on the prevention and management of meningococcal meningitis and
septicaemia in higher education institutions. This now covers the new
vaccination for students. Implementing the guidance as this will help save
lives, so we encourage all universities to get behind it.
There are three key components to the guidance:
Students and staff should be informed about meningococcal
disease and its common signs and symptoms. MenW can be difficult to diagnose
because it has been associated with symptoms infrequently seen with
meningococcal disease, such as severe diarrhoea and vomiting. It’s vitally
important to seek help early.
It is important that all students know to tell someone if
they feel unwell. Medical advice should be sought immediately if someone has
symptoms of concern or if their condition is getting worse.
There are many ways in which universities can alert new
students about the need to get vaccinated. We know that universities’ efforts, in
collaboration with their student health partners, can make a difference: uptake
of MenACWY vaccinations has increased when it has been offered
opportunistically to freshers. Many posters and leaflets are available free of
charge to help raise awareness and information on this is in the guidelines.
Universities should have staff and protocols in place to
raise awareness, promote vaccination and support students and staff should a
case of meningococcal disease arise.
More information is available from Public
Health England and the meningitis charities Meningitis Research
Foundation and Meningitis Now.