Dr Nick Tupper’s blog: Get a vaccine before going to university

o-FLU-VACCINE-facebookFollowing this month’s A level results many Doncaster teenagers will now be excitedly looking forward to the next stage of their lives – getting ready to study at college or university.

It can be a stressful time for all the family as a youngster prepares to fly the nest as there’s a lot to sort out, from somewhere to live to course books and much more.

No doubt there will be plenty of lists being drawn up and ticked off in homes across Doncaster as the leaving date draws nearer.

I would also like to add another ‘must do’ to the checklist if you were born between 1 September 1996 and 31 August 1997.

Earlier this month, GPs like me started inviting teenagers aged 17 and 18 to book an appointment to have the new meningococcal vaccine that will offer protection against meningitis (inflammation of the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning).

Meningitis can be deadly and survivors are often left with severe disabilities as a result of this terrible disease. The symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia can be difficult to recognise in the early stages as they are similar to common flu or a hangover and can include fever, vomiting, headache, staff neck, reaction to light, drowsiness, muscle and leg pain.

It’s important that anyone who plans to go to university this year gets vaccinated before they leave. There is an increased risk of getting meningococcal disease as many students will be mixing closely with lots of new people at university, some of whom may unknowingly carry the meningococcal bacteria.

The vaccine has been introduced in response to a rapidly growing increase in cases of a highly aggressive strain of the disease, with newly released figures showing that there has been a year-on-year increase in the number of cases across the country, from 22 in 2009 to 117 in 2014.

It also protects against other forms of the disease, which can also be fatal or cause long-term complications for those affected.

Anyone who is planning to go to university or college should be vaccinated before the start of the academic term or before leaving home for their place of study – ideally two weeks in advance. So please make an appointment as soon as possible when the vaccine is offered.

First time university entrants from 19 to 24 years of age should also contact their GP for the vaccination.

Whilst offering protection to people at increased risk, this approach will also help to control the spread of the disease amongst the wider population.

We’re very fortunate in this country in that we have excellent vaccine programmes to keep nasty diseases at bay and help us stay healthy. So mums and dads, if your child has received a letter inviting them to contact their GP to have the vaccine, please nudge them to do so if they haven’t already.

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