Public Health England and the Royal College of Nursing are urging new university students to get vaccinated against meningitis so that they can build immunity to the disease before fresher’s week, after figures show that uptake of the jab last year was low.

In England, school leavers (and those in year 9 or 10) are entitled to receive the MenACWY vaccine, which protects against four strains of the disease, as this age group is considered at greatest risk because they mix closely with large groups of new people, some of whom unknowingly carry the bacteria.

In recent years there has been a sharp increase in cases of MenW - a particularly aggressive strain of meningitis with one in 10 cases resulting in death: in 2009 to 2010 there were in total only 22 cases in all children and adults, but this rose to 209 in 2015 to 2016, while the number of related deaths rose from around four a year up until 2012 to 22 deaths in 2014 to 2015.

But only a third of eligible teenagers were vaccinated with the MenACWY jab last year.

“The MenACWY vaccination programme will save lives and prevent lifelong and devastating disability…We urge anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at PHE, adding: “remain vigilant and seek urgent medical help if you think someone may be showing signs of infection.”

“Meningitis can be fatal, and can leave those who survive with life-changing disabilities,” Helen Donovan, public health lead at the RCN, also told the media.

“Vaccination is quick, easy and free, and offers protection against most strains of the disease, but reaching young people is not easy. Many will have been away over the summer travelling or working before university. But the risk is real and getting vaccinated saves lives.”