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Meningitis – protect yourself against a dangerous killer

Meningitis can affect anyone at any time, but there are particular risk factors that increase the possibility of meningitis in students, especially those in their first year. Meningitis is caused by a number of viruses and bacteria. Meningococcal bacteria, particularly MenB and MenW, now account for most cases amongst the student population.

Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning) and this is often referred to as meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease can be fatal in 5-10% of cases, and those who survive may be left with life-changing disabilities and health problems such as hearing loss, brain damage and limb loss. Early recognition and treatment reduces the likelihood of life-changing disabilities and fatal outcomes.

Why students (particularly freshers) are more vulnerable:

Around 25% of adolescents carry the meningococcal bacteria in the back of their throats, compared to approximately 10% of the UK population. Most carriers do not become ill and usually develop some immunity to these bacteria. In an age group where more people are carrying the bacteria, there will be more disease
Meningococcal bacteria are passed from person to person by coughing, sneezing and intimate kissing. Increased social interaction amongst students means that the bacteria can be passed on more easily.

MenW disease has historically been rare in the UK, but since 2009, year on year cases have increased. A particularly aggressive strain of Men W is causing disease in all age groups but there has been a rapid increase in university students. The increase in MenW in recent years led to the introduction of a MenACWY vaccine which is currently being offered to all 14-18 year olds and to first time students. This vaccine will save lives.

University freshers can be more vulnerable because of living in cramped housing or halls of residence. Young people come together from all over the world to study, live and socialise together. They can be exposed to bacteria and viruses their bodies have not met before. This is why so many new students get ‘fresher’s flu’.

In a recent Meningitis Now survey, 90% of people aged 18 to 24 years said they had heard of the disease, yet only a quarter knew the signs and symptoms, and 60% said they didn’t know they were at risk. Going off to university is often the first time young people are living away from their parents and their own health and wellbeing is not always a priority. With no parents to keep an eye on their health, meningitis can be missed.

Get yourself vaccinated against meningitis

Don’t leave it to chance. Make sure you’re vaccinated against meningitis.
Luckily for you, it is perfectly possible, and easier than you think, to get yourself vaccinated against meningitis. The University Medical Centre is offering students the opportunity to receive the Meningitis ACWY vaccine. Not everyone enjoys injections, but this one could save your life or someone else’s. You will need to register with the Centre in order to receive the vaccination. You can call them on 01772 214800.

The Centre also offers a wide array of services, including prescriptions, contraception and sexual health advice. Students can register with the Medical Centre at any time.
If you’re already registered with a doctor’s surgery in the local area then you should contact your own GP to arrange to receive the vaccine.

Meningitis - The Symptoms

Meningitis is inflammation of the meninges, the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by either bacteria or viruses. Septicaemia is blood poisoning caused by bacteria entering the bloodstream and multiplying uncontrollably.

For up to date information on Meningitis vaccinations, see the following link:

Last year over 500 young adults contracted meningitis or meningitis blood poisoning. These diseases can kill in hours if not treated.

Many of the symptoms are similar to those of flu, but if you are worried – about yourself or a friend – contact your doctor immediately, or the University Medical Centre or see the Health and Wellbeing web page for local hospitals. The Student Union and Student Services have information about meningitis and contact the University community quickly if there are any cases locally.

Check out the symptoms list on this page

  • If you're feeling really bad tell someone
  • If a friend is looking rough stick around
  • If it gets worse rapidly, get a doctor's help immediately

Meningitis Blood Poisoning:

  • Rash - (starts as tiny red pin prick marks and develops into purple bruises or blood blisters)
  • Very cold hands and feet
  • Rapid breathing
  • Losing consciousness
  • Pains in the limbs, joints, muscles and stomach
  • Difficulty walking or standing
  • Throwing up repeatedly
  • Fever


Symptoms in adults and older children, look for:

  • Severe headache
  • Severe sleepiness or confusion
  • Stiff neck
  • Dislike of bright lights
  • Throwing up repeatedly
  • Fever
  • Rash

Not everyone gets all these symptoms

1 in 10 of us, at any time are carrying the bacteria which cause these diseases. We pass them between each other by regular close contact, such as kissing. It is OK for the vast majority of us to carry these bacteria - they don't make us ill. But, in a very small number of people the bacteria get into the blood stream and cause meningitis or meningitis blood poisoning.

24 Hour Helpline: 080 8800 3344

More information on the UCLan website

University Medical Centre (registration, contact, opening hours, out-of-hours support)

External links