Meningitis vaccine: Students in Wales urged to get jab

Alison Westwood
Image caption Alison Westwood is an ambassador for Meningitis Now and helps with awareness campaigns at universities

A woman who nearly died due to meningitis has urged students to get vaccinated against the disease.

Cases of meningitis and blood poisoning caused by a highly dangerous strain of MenW bacteria, have been rising over the past decade.

Alison Westwood from Porthcawl, Bridgend county, got viral meningitis in January 2003 at the age of 40 and said it took a long time to recover.

"It's so important for students to recognise the symptoms," she said.

Campaigners say early symptoms can be similar to a hangover - with symptoms such as a headache and vomiting - but also include muscle pain, fever and cold hands and feet.

People most at risk include older teenagers and students - with halls of residence at universities being common breeding grounds.

Ms Westwood said: "As a physiotherapist, I had treated people with meningitis but didn't recognise my terrible headache as anything to worry about.

"I took painkillers to no avail but when I developed photophobia and couldn't stand the light, my husband insisted he rang the doctor."

She went to the out-of-ours service and was admitted to hospital where a lumbar puncture confirmed it was viral meningitis.

Ms Westwood said the treatment "saved my life", but she suffered with fatigue, dizziness, short-term memory loss and intense headaches during her recovery.

Her symptoms meant she was retired from her job due to ill health - now she encourages students to get the jab, saying it "could mean saving a life".

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Most at risk are older teenagers and students - with halls of residence being a common breeding ground

Dr Richard Roberts from Public Health Wales said the W strain of the disease was "particularly severe and more difficult to diagnosis".

He added: "It has a higher mortality rate, so once you are vaccinated, you've significantly reduced your risk of being infected by 90%."

The single-dose ACWY vaccine, protects against the four different strains of the meningococcal bacteria that cause meningitis and septicaemia.

Figures discussed at a recent Public Health Wales conference showed the catch-up immunisation uptake was still only 42%, dropping to 35% in some areas.

Swansea University's awareness campaigns has seen student vaccination uptake at 60.8%.

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