21/09/2011 12:20 BST | Updated 21/11/2011 05:12 GMT

Students Warned Over Potential Meningitis Outbreak

Students returning to university have been warned of the risk of meningitis and measles after a rise in cases in recent year.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) issued the warning as recent figures showed many patients were not immunised.

From January to July this year there were 777 confirmed cases of measles, compared with 374 cases for the whole of 2010. Those affected were mainly children or young adults under 25 and were mostly associated with universities and schools.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of the immunisation department at the HPA said: "It is absolutely vital that all students ensure they are completely up to date with all their vaccinations.

"University bars and campuses where lots of students are in close proximity is an ideal place for bacteria and viruses to spread which is why we may see more outbreaks of these infections in this environment."

Last year saw 896 cases of meningococcal infection - one of the most common causes of meningitis which causes the lining of the brain to become inflamed. The infection, which is more common in young people and children, can prove to be fatal.

Ramsay urged students to protect themselves against by having the appropriate vaccines.

"The MMR will protect against measles, mumps and rubella", she said.

"Although the Men C vaccine does not protect against all the bacteria that can lead to meningitis it is still vital to make sure you are protected against that strain. There is no vaccine for the meningitis B strain which is more common which is why we are also reminding students about the early warning signs of this infection."

But there has been controversy over the MMR drug, and some students say they do not want to have the jab.

Phoebe, a student at Worcester University, said: "I didn't have the jab when I was younger as there were several cases about the vaccine causes autism and so my parents didn't want to take the risk. I think I'm quite safe."

The link between MMR and autism has been discredited.

The HPA's warning comes as the Huffington Post reported three families who claim their children suffered a potentially fatal illness from the MMR vaccine are suing a law firm over their collapsed case against the manufacturers of the jab.