Meningitis rates rise sharply after 'historic low' during pandemic

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Meningitis rates rise sharply after 'historic low' during pandemic

The rate of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) in England fell to “a historic low” just after pandemic restrictions were put in place in 2020 but increased sharply once they were lifted, according to the UK Health Security Agency.

The latest data reveals lockdown measures implemented in April two years ago saw cases fall to their lowest level and remain low throughout 2020 and most of last year.

A median of eight monthly cases were confirmed between April 2020 and April 2021 compared with 45 cases in the 12 months up to April 2019.

However, the return of face-to-face teaching saw the rate increase between September 1 and November 30 last year.

The UKHSA said the number of cases amongst 15 to 19-year-olds is now “higher than they were pre-pandemic and mainly due to meningitis B".

The data prompted the UKHSA to urge teenagers and young adults to ensure they have had the MenACWY vaccine to protect against four strains of the meningococcal bacteria, A, C, W and Y.

Children aged 13 to 15 are offered the vaccine in school and anyone born on or after September 1, 1996 who were eligible but missed their teenage MenACWY vaccination can have it up to their 25th birthday.

“Students and parents need to be aware of the early signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia. If you’re concerned you have any of the symptoms seek immediate medical help as the earlier you get treatment the better,” said professor Ray Borrow, head of the vaccine evaluation unit at UKHSA.

“Students and young people can also help protect themselves against some types of meningococcal bacteria by ensuring that they’ve had their MenACWY vaccine.

"They can do this by checking with their GP and getting the vaccine as soon as possible if they’ve yet to be vaccinated.

“We have one of the most comprehensive surveillance programme for vaccine preventable diseases and will continue to monitor cases of meningococcal disease across England.”

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