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Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 11:52 GMT
Student meningitis jab rates 'low'

Student vaccination rates vary around the country

Students are putting themselves at risk of meningitis by failing to be vaccinated against the potentially killer disease, a survey says.

Doctors warned of "worryingly low" vaccination rates - one in four first year university students have not had the jab.

Students should sign up with a GP straight away and ensure they receive a meningitis vaccination
Dr Nigel Higson
The survey from the Primary Care Virology Group - an independent group of GPs - also uncovered wide variations around the UK.

Outbreaks of meningitis often follow high rates of flu and students are particularly susceptible to the C strain of the brain disease.

The government launched a campaign in September last year to vaccinate all first year students against meningitis C.

But the survey found that although 91% of the 610 students asked had heard of the campaign, only 75% had been vaccinated.

A regional breakdown showed even lower rates in some areas - in Huddersfield 62% had not been vaccinated, and in London 41% had yet to receive the jab.

Not got round to it

Of those who had not been vaccinated, 53% said they had "simply not got round to it", despite high profile cases of students dying from the disease.

Of the students questioned, 77% said they regarded the disease as "very serious".

Low levels of registration with GPs in university towns were partly to blame - a third of first years in Huddersfield and London did not have a doctor.

Chairman of the Primary Care Virology Group Dr Nigel Higson said: "Students should sign up with a GP straight away and ensure they receive a meningitis vaccination.

Why new students are at risk
They are mixing with a lot of different people for the first time
They are potentially meeting different bacteria to ones they have experienced before
They are often living in close proximity with others in halls of residence
Bouts of flu are common at the start of term, weakening immune systems
"Individuals in their late teens and early 20s are more likely to be affected by meningitis C than other strains of the disease.

"It is extremely serious and is preventable with a vaccine that takes just a few minutes to receive.

"Outbreaks of meningitis often follow outbreaks of influenza, so I would urge students to take action immediately."

The vaccine provides protection against the C strain of the disease for about three years. The C strain accounts for about 40% of meningitis cases in the UK.

A spokeswoman for the Meningitis Research Foundation said: "We would urge those students who have not been vaccinated to seriously consider it because it will give them protection against group C meningitis."

But she warned students were still susceptible to the B strain and should be alert for symptoms of the disease.

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See also:
09 Mar 99 |  Medical notes
Meningitis: Preventive measures
02 Sep 99 |  Health
Students urged to have meningitis jabs
01 Nov 99 |  Health
Mass meningitis vaccination programme begins

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