Parents across the South West urged to remind teenagers to get vaccinated against deadly meningitis and septicaemia, according to Public Health England. Cases of meningitis and septicaemia caused by an aggressive MenW strain are on the rise.

Public Health England adds that the MenACWY vaccine is the best form of protection against these deadly diseases, with a 100% effectiveness rate so far.

The first 18 months of the MenACWY vaccination programme saw more than 2 million teenagers receive the MenACWY vaccine, but there are still many more that need it and can have it. 18 year olds should be given MenACWY vaccine now by their GP practice. In addition, teenagers and young adults who have missed their MenACWY vaccination in previous years are also urged to contact their GP practice.

Those who are due to leave school this summer, or aged 17-18 and are not in school (born between 1 September 1998 and 31 August 1999) are now eligible.

The MenACWY jab protects against four strains of meningococcal disease which causes meningitis and septicaemia, known as strains A, C, W and Y. MenW is one of the most aggressive and life threatening forms and meningococcal disease can be fatal. Many survivors are left with life changing disabilities, including brain damage and loss of limbs. The MenACWY vaccine remains the best form of protection against the A, C, W, and Y strains with a 100% effectiveness rate in those that have been vaccinated so far.

Julie Yates, South West Screening and Immunisations lead, said, “The MenACWY vaccination programme will save lives and prevent lifelong and devastating disability. We have seen a rapid increase in Men W cases across England in recent years and vaccination is the most effective way of protecting against infection.

“Young people are particularly at risk as they are carriers of the disease. Being in confined environments with close contact, such university halls, hostels when travelling, or attending festivals, increase the chances of infection if unprotected.”

Ardiana Gjini, South Central Screening and Immunisations lead, added, “Get vaccinated as soon as possible, remain vigilant and seek urgent medical help if you have concerns for yourself or friends. New entrants to higher education (university freshers) are also eligible. Anyone who is eligible and has missed vaccination in previous years remains eligible up to their 25th birthday and is urged to have the MenACWY vaccine.”

While the vaccine also helps protect against Men A, C, W and Y, it does not cover all forms of meningococcal disease. It is therefore important for parents and young people to be vigilant in spotting early symptoms and to seek early medical assistance if they are concerned. Not everyone will develop these symptoms and they can appear in any order but common symptoms may include:

Pale, blotchy skin with or without a rash
Irritability and/or confusion
Severe headache, joint or muscle pains
Dislike of bright lights
Stiff neck
Convulsions/seizures
Fever, cold hands and feet
Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
Drowsiness, difficult to wake up
Some of the recent Men W cases in teenagers have had atypical presentation i.e missing some of the traditional core features of the illness (for example headache and gastroenteritis without rash or photophobia). If parents or young people are concerned they are encouraged to seek medical advice.

Vinny Smith, Chief Executive of Meningitis Research Foundation explained, “Sadly we know too many people who have been struck down by MenW. 18 year old Lauren Sandell fell ill last year in her second week of university, having tried to get the vaccine before leaving home. She mistook her early symptoms for a mild case of food poisoning. Two days later her symptoms got rapidly worse and she died just as the ambulance arrived.

“If you don’t know whether you are entitled to the free vaccine, our online eligibility checker will make it easy to find out. If everyone who is eligible gets it, this will not only protect them but will also help protect others by stopping the bacteria from spreading.”

Dr Tom Nutt, Chief Executive at the charity Meningitis Now, added, “It’s vital that young people and their parents are not complacent about the threat of meningitis, and we urge all those eligible for this lifesaving vaccination to arrange to get it today. Meningitis can be a devastating disease, killing one in ten and leaving a third of survivors with lifelong after-effects such as hearing loss, epilepsy, limb loss or learning difficulties.

“With teenagers being a high-risk group, we welcome this timely reminder for parents to ensure their loved ones take this easy step to help protect themselves.”

For further information about the MenACWY vaccination, see the NHS Choices website.