Meningitis B cases among teenagers and young people are rising warns the UK Health Security Agency

Cases of meningitis among teenagers are now higher than they were before the pandemic, health officials are warning.

Parents and young people are being urged to look out for symptoms of the life-threatening disease as numbers among those aged 15 to 19 in England are exceeding those recorded before March 2020, according to a new report.

The rise in cases is being seen in teenagers aged 15 to 19
The rise in cases is being seen in teenagers aged 15 to 19

Analysis by the UK Health Security Agency shows that in the autumn - after more than 18 months of exceptionally low figures as a result of lockdown and social distancing - there was a significant and sudden rise in cases of Meningitis B in particular, with the majority among university students.

Meningococcal disease is a life-threatening infection caused by a bacteria that can go on to cause meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning). There are five main meningococcal strains that cause illness in the UK with Meningitis B the most common and other strains include MenA, MenC, MenW and MenY.

In the UK, teenagers are eligible for the meningococcal ACWY vaccine as part of the national immunisation programme, and the MenB vaccine is also now offered to infants. Cases of meningococcal disease, due to all strains, currently remain substantially lower than pre-Covid19 years for infants, toddlers and young children say those studying the data.

Families are being urged to make sure children's vaccines are up to date
Families are being urged to make sure children's vaccines are up to date

But between September and November last year there were 26 cases of the disease recorded in people aged 15 to 24 - with 22 of those picked up in teenagers and young adults going to some form of higher education setting.

Alongside being significantly higher in these age groups than recorded case numbers for 2018 and 2019, it has prompted a strong warning for parents and young people to ensure immunisations are up to date and that they remain aware of the possible symptoms.

Professor Ray Borrow, Head of the Vaccine Evaluation Unit at UKHSA and one of the lead authors of the new paper, said: "Students and parents need to be aware of the early signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia. If you’re concerned you have any of the symptoms seek immediate medical help as the earlier you get treatment the better.

"Students and young people can also help protect themselves against some types of meningococcal bacteria by ensuring that they’ve had their MenACWY vaccine. They can do this by checking with their GP and getting the vaccine as soon as possible if they’ve yet to be vaccinated.

"We have one of the most comprehensive surveillance programme for vaccine preventable diseases and will continue to monitor cases of meningococcal disease across England."

September to November's outbreak was primarily among students in higher education settings
September to November's outbreak was primarily among students in higher education settings

The disease can progress rapidly so it is important, says the UKHSA, to get medical help as soon as possible if someone is experiencing any symptoms of infection.

Commons signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia include fever with cold hands and feet, sickness, being drowsy or difficult to wake, irritability, muscle pain, headaches and neck stiffness, a dislike of bright lights and convulsions or seizures. To learn more click here.

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