Freshers told to get jabs 'just in case'

May 29, 1998

Southampton University will tell all 3,000 freshers this autumn to get vaccinated against the killer disease meningitis before they arrive.

Manchester University is also "seriously considering" asking its freshers to do the same.

Earlier this academic year three Southampton students died in the worst British university meningitis outbreak to date.

Normally meningitis vaccinations are only offered once a case is suspected, or for travellers to meningitis hot-spots, such as Brazil, northern India and central and southeastern Africa.

A vaccination is available against the C strain of the disease, but not against the B form. It was primarily the C form that was responsible for the 15 meningitis deaths and 64 incidents of the disease reported at British universities this academic year.

A spokesman for Southampton University said the decision to urge students to be vaccinated had been made by the local health authority. Peter Reader, head of public affairs at the university, said: "We never want to go through what we went through last year and therefore we welcome the authority's decision. It was Cardiff in 1996 and Southampton in 1997. Regrettably there will be a chance it's somewhere else in 1998. It cannot be predicted." He said that the local health authority would be providing letters for students to take to their GP before they arrive in Southampton.

"It is better that the injections are done before the student arrives because they take between ten and 14 days to build up. We will also be making arrangements for those who have not been vaccinated before they arrive," he said.

In a separate move, Manchester University is also considering asking its 6,000 first years to be vaccinated as part of a research study into the effectiveness of the vaccine. The study would be undertaken in conjunction with the Meningitis Research Foundation.

Bridie Taylor, support services manager at the National Meningitis Trust, warned that a vaccination against the C strain of the disease should not lull students into a false sense of security. "Irrespective of whether a student is given the vaccination, the other strains of the bacteria can still overcome the body's defences," she said. "People should still be alert to the signs of meningitis."

* Swansea complaint, page 8

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