The return of students to university and colleges, and the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, was accompanied by a substantial increase in MenB cases in England

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Cases of meningococcal disease among teenagers and young adults in England increased sharply in the autumn, mainly caused by group B meningococcal disease (MenB).

The majority of cases were seen among university and college students, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

Rates of invasive meningococcal disease in England declined sharply to a historic low in April 2020 and remained low over the following year, with an average of eight cases each month, compared with 45 in 2018 and 2019.

Cases rose after lockdown restrictions were lifted

preprint analysis by the UKHSA of serogroup and age distribution cases after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were lifted last summer showed a sharp increase in meningococcal disease among 15- to 19-year-olds between 01 September and 30 November.

Rates were higher than before the pandemic, the data showed.

Of all the confirmed cases among the 15–19 and 20–24 age groups, 84.6% were students in further or higher education.

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, found that 88.7% of meningococcal cases during this period were caused by group B strains.

Group W disease represented 5.7% of cases, compared to 21.8% in the corresponding period in 2019.

There were no cases of group Y or C disease observed between September and November 2021.

Cases of meningococcal disease due to all strains have remained substantially lower than pre-COVID-19 levels in infants, toddlers, and young children.

Vaccine programme

The researchers suggested that the low number of cases of groups W, Y, and C was likely to be due to the MenACWY conjugate vaccine programme introduced for adolescents in 2015.

Professor Ray Borrow, Head of the Vaccine Evaluation Unit at UKHSA and one of the lead authors of the paper, said: ‘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.

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

Professor Borrow said the UKHSA would continue to monitor cases of meningococcal disease across England.

Linda Glennie, Director of Research, Evidence, and Policy at the Meningitis Research Foundation, said: ‘It’s encouraging to see that the MenACWY vaccine is working, and important for everyone eligible to get the vaccine.

‘However, teenagers and young adults remain susceptible to MenB disease and are not eligible for routine MenB vaccine, due to low case numbers in this age group since the vaccine was introduced for babies.’

This article was originally published on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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