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Students urged to take new vaccine against deadly meningitis strain

By Victoria O'Hara

Students and teenagers across Northern Ireland have been urged to get the new meningitis vaccine, to protect them against a potentially deadly strain of the disease.

School leavers and first-time university students across the province are to get the new meningococcal vaccine, which is available from today.

Through a new immunisation programme, everyone born between July 2, 1996 and July 1, 1997, and first time university students up to the age of 25, will be offered the Men ACWY vaccine.

Meningitis W has a higher death rate than other strains of the disease. The vaccination protects against meningitis and septicaemia caused by four meningoccocal strains - Men W, A, C and Y.

From January 2016, the vaccination will also start to be rolled out to all 14-18-year-olds through the schools immunisation programme and GPs.

Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) estimates that there are around 3,400 cases of bacterial meningitis and septicaemia every year in the UK and Ireland.

This means every day nine people become ill with the diseases. With one in 10 people dying, a death will occur almost every day.

The disease develops rapidly and early symptoms can include headache, vomiting, muscle pain and fever, with cold hands and feet.

Health Minister Simon Hamilton welcomed the programme.

"This vaccination helps protect against four different causes of meningitis and septicaemia - meningococcal A, C, W and Y diseases. We are ensuring it is made available in Northern Ireland now, despite the extremely challenging financial position," he said.

Dr Lucy Jessop, Consultant in Health Protection at the Public Health Agency, explained: "Older teenagers are at higher risk of getting MenW disease, so you need to get vaccinated to help protect yourself.

"It will also reduce the risk of you carrying the bacteria, therefore also protecting those around you.

She added: "Older teenagers and those starting university usually mix with larger groups of people, making them more exposed to various infections or diseases. The best way to protect against meningococcal A, C, W, or Y disease is to get the vaccine before starting university."

The MRF urge the public to be aware of all signs and symptoms and trust instincts - not to wait for a rash to develop before seeking urgent attention.

The vaccine Bexsero will be offered for babies starting at two months, followed by another dose at four months and a booster dose at one year. The Men ACWY vaccine programme to protect against the four strains of the disease, Meningococcal A, C, W and Y (MenACWY) is aimed at teenagers and older university entrants.

Meningococcal meningitis, infection and inflammation of the brain's lining, and meningococcal septicaemia, or blood poisoning, are both infections caused by the meningococcus bacteria.

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