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Raising awareness of meningococcal disease and how to spot the symptoms

How the disease spreads

Meningococcal bacteria are commonly carried in the back of the throat but only very rarely cause illness. The bacteria do not spread easily and only those who have had prolonged, close contact with a person who is ill are at a slightly greater risk of becoming ill themselves.

Symptoms of meningococcal disease

Although the risk of widespread infection at a university is low, it is sensible to be aware of the main signs and symptoms, which are outlined below. The bacteria can cause either meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain) or septicaemia (blood poisoning) or both. This disease can be serious.

Some signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease

  • High temperature
  • Vomiting/diarrhoea and stomach cramps
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Dislike of bright light
  • Rapid breathing
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Abnormal skin colour
  • Rash/ Bruising rash
  • Drowsiness or confusion

Not everyone will develop these symptoms and they can appear in any order. Meningococcal disease can be hard to identify at first because it can be like a bad case of flu.

Anyone affected will usually become seriously ill within a few hours and you should contact your GP (family doctor) or NHS 111 urgently to seek advice if you have any concerns about your own or a friend’s health. Early treatment can be life-saving.

Protecting against meningococcal disease

It is important to be aware that meningococcal disease is caused by different groups of meningococcal bacteria. In the UK disease is almost always caused by one of four meningococcal groups commonly known as MenB, MenC, MenW or MenY. Some groups of meningococcal disease can be prevented with vaccines.

MenACWY vaccine has been offered to older teenagers as part of a catch-up programme to ensure protection before leaving school. If you were born on or after 01.09.1986 and missed your MenACWY vaccine as a teenager, or if you are older but in your first year at university, you can still have the vaccine up to your 25th birthday. Even if you had MenC vaccine when you were younger it is important that you get the MenACWY vaccine.

Please ensure you are up to date with your vaccinations with your GP. Be watchful for signs and symptoms even if you are up to date with vaccination as available vaccines do not protect against all forms of the disease.

All meningococcal vaccines offered as part of routine programmes are freely available on the NHS. Vaccines may be available privately for those who are not eligible under these programmes.

Further information on meningococcal disease is available from:

If you need further support or advice, please contact the Student Mental Health & Wellbeing Team or call us on 01695 657 988.