Recent increase in group B meningococcal disease among teenagers and young adults

Recent data and analysis from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows that in autumn 2021 there was an increase in the number of cases of meningococcal disease in teenagers and young adults, mainly caused by group B meningococcal disease (MenB) – with the majority among university students.

Meningococcal disease is a life-threatening infection caused by bacteria that can go on to cause meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning). There are 5 main meningococcal strains that cause disease in the UK. Men B is the most common strain in the UK and other strains include MenA, MenC, MenW and MenY.

The disease can progress rapidly so it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms so that you can get medical help as soon as possible.

Commons signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia:

  • fever with cold hands and feet
  • vomiting
  • drowsy or difficult to wake
  • confusion and irritability
  • severe muscle pain
  • pale blotchy skin, spots or rash
  • severe headache
  • stiff neck
  • dislike bright lights
  • convulsions or seizures

If you have any of these symptoms, seek medical help immediately.

Restrictions to reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) saw the rates of meningococcal disease at a historic low until September 2021. As restrictions lifted data shows that cases of meningococcal disease began to rise, with the number of cases in 15 to 19 year olds now higher than they were pre-pandemic and mainly due to MenB.

In the UK, teenagers are eligible for the meningococcal ACWY vaccine as part of the national immunisation programme, and the MenB vaccine is offered to infants. Cases of meningococcal disease due to all strains have remained substantially lower than pre-COVID-19 years in infants, toddlers and young children.

Professor Ray Borrow, Head of the Vaccine Evaluation Unit at UKHSA and one of the lead authors of the 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.

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