A former student from Bicester who caught meningitis while at university is backing calls for current students to get the vaccine.

A fresh call is being made for university students to ensure they are protected against meningitis after six cases across the South of England.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is urging students in the South East to ensure they have had their MenACWY vaccine, which protects against four strains of the disease.

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The jab is offered to year 9 and 10 pupils, but anyone eligible who has missed out can still get it free from their GP until their 25th birthday.

Rachel Mearkle, health protection consultant and meningitis lead for UKHSA South East, said: “We have seen two cases of meningitis in university students recently in the South East and four in our neighbouring region the South West.

“Luckily, all students received early medical treatment and are recovering well. But sadly, this is not always the case.

“We’re urging students to ensure they’re vaccinated against these life-threatening illnesses, so that they can enjoy this exciting stage in their lives.”

The agency’s vaccine coverage data shows that uptake is falling. Before the pandemic, 87 per cent of pupils in England were receiving the vaccine leaving one in eight unprotected.

But the latest data from 2021-2022 shows that the rate has fallen to 79.6 per cent.

Ashleigh Denton, 30, from Bicester, was admitted to hospital as an 18-year-old student with life-threatening meningitis after initially dismissing her symptoms as a hangover.

Now working as a senior course administrator at the University of Oxford, Ms Denton said: “I thought I was probably getting a cold, it was my first year at university but I wasn’t worried, so I went out with friends. Within a couple of hours my behaviour changes, I was agitated and emotional.

“The next day I woke up, still with a headache, and assumed I was hungover. I phoned my mum to tell her I didn’t feel well and was going to sleep for a bit, but I was crying and she knew something wasn’t right.

“She spoke to my sister, who asked if I wanted her to pick me up and take me home.

“In the car my symptoms got worse very quickly. My head was so sore, I couldn’t open my eyes, my neck stiffened, I was retching, and I just knew something was seriously wrong.

“My sister saw a sign for a hospital in Swindon, about halfway back from my university to Oxford, and took me there and I was quickly admitted to A&E.”

Dr Tom Nutt, Chief Executive of leading meningitis charity Meningitis Now, said: “It is very sad to hear of more young lives being affected by meningitis. We know there are new cases across the country and every case is one case too many.”


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This story was written by Matthew Norman, he joined the team in 2022 as a Facebook community reporter.

Matthew covers Bicester and focuses on finding stories from diverse communities.

Get in touch with him by emailing: Matthew.norman@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @OxMailMattN1