Disease stalks students

October 24, 1997

STUDENTS at old universities are more than twice as likely to contract potentially deadly meningococcal diseases than non-students in the same age group, a survey has found.

In the week that two first-year Salford University students were admitted to hospital with meningitis, Keith Neal, senior lecturer in public health medicine at Nottingham University, reported results of a survey of meningococcal diseases among 18 to 25-year-olds to a meeting organised by the Meningitis Research Foundation.

The "Managing Meningitis in Universities and Colleges" conference coincides with the beginning of the academic year when students appear to be most at risk from the disease. It follows the death last year of at least 16 university students from meningitis.

Dr Neal's survey showed the occurrence of meningococcal diseases, including meningitis and septicaemia, varied widely between institutions, with some universities experiencing no meningitis cases in the three years of the study, while others had infection rates as high as 40 per 100,000 each year.

Among non-students aged 18 to 25, the rate of meningococcal illness is between five and seven per 100,000, but among students this was found to be almost double, at 10.3 per 100,000.

Rates rose to 15.8 per 100,000 per year in the "old red-brick universities" that house high proportions of first-year students in halls of residence and have fewer mature students. Most cases were of group B disease, against which it is not possible to vaccinate.

"Awareness is most important," Dr Neal said. "Early treatment is highly effective. People need to be aware of the signs." Symptoms include headaches, stiff necks, fever, vomiting, a bruising-like rash and aching limbs.

* A Salford University fresher is in intensive care after contracting meningitis. The 19-year-old male was admitted to hospital last Friday, just hours before a female first-year student from the same hall of residence was also admitted.

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