Denise Dowse: Actress dies at 64 after contracting meningitis
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Meningitis is described by the NHS as an “infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord”. While anyone can be affected, it is most common in young adults, teenagers, babies, and young children.
Meningitis is particularly common among first year students at university, as the virus thrives on the inevitable bevy of mixing that occurs in those frantic first few weeks and one which can easily be mistaken for that other experience new to many first-year students, the hangover.
However, unlike the hangover, meningitis can be deadly if it isn’t treated quickly, or in cases where the virus doesn’t kill, can cause permanent brain and nerve damage.
For this reason, the UKHSA (United Kingdom Health Security Agency) and meningitis charities are calling for students and their parents to make sure any individual heading to university for the first time is up to date with their vaccines.
What the main symptoms of meningitis?
The main symptoms of meningitis to look out for include:
• A high temperature
• Being sick
• A headache
• A rash that does not fade with a glass is rolled over it
• A stiff neck
• A dislike of bright lights
• Drowsiness and unresponsiveness
In a statement, the UKHSA’s Dr Shamez Ladhani said: “We know that colleges and universities can be hotspots for the spread of diseases such as meningitis and measles. At the top of any list of essential things to get for college should be any missed vaccines – it could save your life.
“If unsure check with your GP to make sure that you are up to date with the MenACWY, MMR and HPV vaccinations before term starts. All students need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia. Don’t assume it’s just a hangover or freshers’ flu.”
What should someone do if they have symptoms of the infection?
Dr Ladhani says that students who are feeling poorly should “make sure a friend knows, and to stay in touch regularly with friends who are ill. These diseases can progress rapidly and so urgent action in getting medical attention is critical – call NHS 111 straight away”
Once a meningitis outbreak begins, it can spread rapidly, particularly when there is a significant amount of mixing between people who may or not be protected from the virus from vaccinations.
The vaccination traditionally offered to school leavers and university freshers is the meningitis ACWY vaccine, one given in a single dose to the upper arm thsat protects against four strains of meningitis.
In common with other vaccines, the ACWY can cause side effects such as:
• Redness, hardening, and itching around the area where the vaccine was injected
• A high temperature
• A headache
Although these side effects may prove uncomfortable, they are as nothing compared to the symptoms and potential consequences of catching meningitis.
Claire Wright, a representative from the Meningitis Foundation, said: “Meningitis can kill healthy people within hours and is difficult to distinguish from a bad hangover or more common milder illnesses in the early stages.
“By taking up the free MenACWY vaccine, school leavers are not only protecting themselves but also protecting others by stopping the bacteria from being passed on. For those who have already been vaccinated it remains important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis because the free vaccine does not protect against MenB, which is the most common cause of life-threatening meningitis amongst this age group.”
While this may seem unnerving and may cause some students who suffer from anxiety to fear going to university this September it is important to remember that this is not new. Every year there are warnings about meningitis before a new wave of students enters campus.
The reason for this wave of warnings is to boost awareness in the same way a booster jab improves protection from a virus, to protect more people and potentially save a life.
What are the other potential health threats students may face at university?
There are no specific conditions which will affect university students and not others; when any large body of people mix there will always be the odd virus which spreads from person to person.
The important thing, for those concerned about becoming ill, is to follow the two basic criteria most adults live their live by and try to balance a healthy diet with regular exercise.
However, with students in such an intense learning period, it is inevitable that this will often be a case of easier said than done as many begin culinary explorations of their own.
Furthermore, should any student have any psychological or physiological health questions, there is normally someone onsite to help answer their questions alongside the bevy of health services the NHS provides.
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