03/08/2015 20:09 BST | Updated 03/08/2016 06:59 BST

#StoptheSpread Against a Deadly New Strain of Meningitis


Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) have launched #StoptheSpread, a campaign aimed at encouraging young people and students going to University in September to protect themselves against meningitis and septicaemia caused by groups A, C W and Y meningococcal bacteria (MenACWY).

14 to 18 year olds will be given a one off MenACWY vaccine to combat the continued increase in the number of cases of a virulent and deadly new strain of meningococcal W (MenW) meningitis and septicaemia. MRF's Meningococcal Genome Library was instrumental in identifying this new strain.

• 17-18 year olds and new starters at university will be immunised first as they are at the highest risk. Younger teenagers will be immunised within the next 2 years.

• People born between 1 September 1996 and 31 August 1997 will be contacted by their GP over the summer and immunisation of these age groups will begin from 1st August 2015.

• New starters at university younger than 25 and born before 1 September 1996 are also eligible to receive the vaccine through their GP from August 2015 but will have to arrange the appointment themselves

• The MenC booster for 14 year olds will be directly replaced with MenACWY as of September 2015.

Meningococcal infection has always been the leading cause of meningitis in the UK. Six different kinds, serogroups A, B, C, W, X, and Y cause the most disease. For decades meningococcal B has caused most cases of the disease in the UK, and meningococcal C was also common until the MenC vaccine was introduced, reducing cases to just a handful each year.

However, cases of meningococcal W (MenW) have risen year on year in England and Wales since 2009. Public Health England has shown that since 2008/9 when MenW accounted for only 1-2% of meningococcal cases, it has increased to cause 15% of cases in 2013/14.

We have launched #StoptheSpread to encourage all students starting university in September and young people at secondary school to make sure they are protected against this deadly strain of meningitis and septicaemia. Using our meningococcal genome library, scientists at Public Health England found that almost all of the increase in MenW disease is due to a particularly virulent type of meningococcal bacteria called ST-11.

The rise in this ST-11 MenW disease is particularly alarming because it is striking mainly healthy people across all age groups, with a marked spike amongst teenagers and cases are rising steeply. In England and Wales alone, 184 cases were reported from July 2014 to June 2015 compared with just 98 cases for same time period over the previous years. The ST-11 strain is associated with severe illness which often requires treatment in intensive care and has a higher associated death rate than other strains of meningococcal disease, (13% fatality compared to 5-10%).

Adolescents aged between 14 to 18 are more likely to carry meningococcal bacteria than any other age group and offering ACWY vaccine to all of them should stop the bacteria from being passed on. This means that even unvaccinated people will be protected from catching the disease - an effect known as herd protection. Although we welcome the implementation of the ACWY vaccine amongst 14-18 year olds over the next couple of years, it will take time for herd protection to be established so babies (who are particularly vulnerable to developing disease) will remain unprotected. Fortunately, the MenB vaccine Bexsero, which will be routinely available for babies from September, also protects against this ST-11 MenW strain.