Public Health England announced that teenagers in the UK will soon be vaccinated against deadly meningitis W following a steep rise in the number of cases.
There are six different kinds of meningococcal infection which lead to meningitis known as A, B, C, W, X and Y. MenW was rare but a new strain of the bacterium is causing severe disease in teenagers and young adults.
Teenagers between the ages of 14 to 18 are to be offered a Meningitis vaccine to protect against this rare strain of the disease, amid warnings of a “public health emergency” facing the UK.
The Telegraph reports: Three million teens will be offered immunisation in a bid to prevent to prevent transmission of a “highly aggressive” subtype of the disease, following a five-fold rise in cases of it in five years.
The Department of Health (DoH) made an immediate ruling, following independent advice from The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advised that the steep rise in cases of meningococcal W disease was “of great concern”.
In advice published on Friday it states that “levels of disease were consistent with an outbreak situation, with cases and deaths occuring in all age ranges, consituting a public health emergency.”
Until recently the strain, had mainly affected the elderly, but the new bacterium is causing severe disease in teenagers and young adults.
Last year there were 117 cases, compared with 22 in 2009, the report shows, and in the last two years, there have been 24 deaths, compared with around four a year until 2012.
The committee said all 14 to 18-year-olds should be offered the immunisation to prevent transmission of MenW disease.
It said there was strong evidence that risks increased in late adolescence, so offering the jab before then was the “minimum needed to rapidly generate herd protection”.
The DoH confirmed it would implement a vaccination programme, which it has been asked to do “as soon as possible”.
Health officials were unable to say when this would be, but it is likely the jabs will be offered through schools over the next year.
Andrew Pollard, chairman of the JCVI said the programme would have “a substantial impact on the disease and protect the public’s health.”
He added: “We have seen an increase in MenW cases this winter caused by a highly aggressive strain of the bug.
“We reviewed the outbreak in detail at JCVI and concluded that this increase was likely to continue in future years unless action is taken.”
Health officials stressed that the total number of cases and overall risk remains low.