As fresh-faced university and college students excitedly either start their new journey or return to continue with their studies following the summer break, families, charities, and healthcare professionals are raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of meningitis.
As an Ambassador for Meningitis Research Foundation, I have attended Freshers Weeks at Plymouth University for several years, helping to raise awareness of meningitis, and often signposting students to the medical centre in order for them to have their vaccinations at the start of the academic year. Having personally witnessed the impact of a delay in diagnosis of meningitis B, my dad having contracted the disease when I was 6 years old, I know the importance first hand of receiving urgent medical treatment.
Free meningitis vaccinations for students
Only 1 in 4 students opt to accept the free vaccination protecting against meningitis ACWY, which is routinely offered to teenagers in years 9 and 10 at school. It is crucial that it is understood that firstly this vaccination does not prevent these strains of the disease entirely, and this does not include protection against meningitis B. Vaccinations against meningitis B are now offered to babies aged eight weeks. For anyone older, they can only be accessed privately.
What is Meningitis B?
Meningitis B is a bacterial strain of the disease, and once contacted, progresses rapidly, and can result in life changing injuries, or fatal consequences. It is crucial that, if you suspect someone may have meningitis, you trust your instincts, and seek medical help fast.
What are the symptoms of Meningitis B?
The first symptoms of meningitis are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell. Limb pain, pale skin, and cold hands and feet often appear earlier than the rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion.
It is important to understand that not everyone gets all the meningitis and septicaemia symptoms - they can appear in any order.
Campaigning for awareness of Meningitis B
The families of two Bristol teenagers who died from this devastating disease are urging young people to understand the signs and symptoms of the disease, both for their own safety and those of friends or other students who may become unwell.
George Zographou, known as Zoggy, contracted meningitis B whilst at the Boardmasters Festival in Cornwall, celebrating the end of his A-Levels. He was taken to Royal Cornwall Hospital, but sadly he died 5 days later.
His sister, Nicola, has been campaigning for awareness of meningitis following his death. She explained to ITV News that initially George was generally unwell, but his deterioration was “really rapid”. She recalls that his main symptom was that he was unable to weight-bear on his legs and he was nauseous.
Nicola went on to explain the total shock, and how she did not know if her family could survive such a sudden and tragic loss. She is bravely campaigning to encourage vaccinations and awareness of the signs and symptoms.
Health experts, and charities like the Meningitis Research Foundation, are encouraging freshers to have the meningitis ACWY vaccination before going to university in the next few weeks.
Julie Yates, Screening and Immunisation Lead at the UKHSA, told ITV news:
"When you go to university you mix with a lot of new people from a lot of different places and from international countries, so the risks are higher because you start to spread your germs between each other.
These vaccines can protect against infections that can be serious and cause disability or death, so we really want young people to be safe, as these are preventable diseases.”
Ryan Bresnahan also lost his life to meningitis B, just before his 16th birthday. His mum, Michelle, has set up the A Life for a Cure charity, in Ryan’s name, campaigning to help understand the signs and symptoms, and the distinction between meningitis and other common illnesses (https://ryanbresnahan.org/).
Michelle has worked alongside Meningitis Now and has come up with an initiative where fridge magnets are provided in the student accommodation at Exeter University, reminding young people of the signs and symptoms.
Michelle explained to ITV News:
"Lots of the symptoms are like freshers’ flu, Covid, and a hangover. If you're in any way alarmed by symptoms, contact somebody".
We act for a number of clients who have suffered life changing injuries, or for families who have lost a loved one to meningitis. It is crucial that everyone is aware of the seriousness of the infection, and the need to seek urgent medical attention, questioning whether those symptoms could be signs of meningitis.
If you would like further advice or support in relation to meningitis, should you be about to go to University or college, or generally, details of Meningitis Research Foundation and Meningitis Now are below:
If you or a family member has been affected by meningitis and would like free legal advice from our medical negligence specialists please contact the team.