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Vaccinations and illnesses that require vigilance

Students are more at risk of certain illnesses than the general population, so it is important to have the appropriate vaccinations and remain vigilant for symptoms.

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Students can be more vulnerable than the general population to certain serious illnesses, as they are often living in close proximity to many other students in halls of residence and mixing with lots of new people.

It's important for students at risk to ensure they've had the proper vaccinations and for all of us to be vigilant of the symptoms of serious illnesses.


Meningitis

All university students under 25 years of age should be immunised against meningitis (the ACWY vaccine). This vaccine also protects against septicaemia (blood poisoning).

Many UK students will have had this vaccine in school aged 13 to 15. If this is the case for you, you do not need to have the vaccine again.

If you did not receive the vaccine in school for any reason, and if you are coming to university for the first time and are under 25 years of age, you should have the meningitis ACWY vaccine. This includes international students.

If you are over 25 years of age, your risk of being infected with meningitis is substantially reduced and you do not need to have the vaccine.

When and how to get the vaccine

If you need the meningitis ACWY vaccine, you should ideally have this several weeks before you arrive at university, as it can take some time for your immunity to build up.

If you're a UK student, your home GP (General Practitioner) should be able to arrange for you to have the vaccine.

If you're an international student, ask your doctor for the vaccine - depending on what's available under your local health service, you may be able to have the vaccine in your home country before you depart for the UK.

If you need the vaccine and for any reason have not had this before you arrive at UCL, speak to your GP in London as soon as you're registered to arrange this (many students will be able to register at Ridgmount Practice, our partner GP surgery, and get the vaccine here). You should have the vaccine as soon as possible to minimise your risk of infection.

Read more about registering with a GP.

Read more about the meningitis ACWY vaccine from the NHS.

Symptoms

Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord.

Bacterial meningitis is very serious, can develop quickly and, in some cases, can be fatal. Viral meningitis is rarely serious and is not helped by antibiotics. Bacterial meningitis is less common than viral meningitis, but is a serious illness and needs urgent treatment with antibiotics.

As the early symptoms of meningitis can disguise themselves as other things, such as common illnesses like flu or maybe even a hangover, it’s easy to mistake meningitis for something else.

A classic symptom of meningitis is a blotchy rash that doesn't fade when a glass is rolled over it, but this symptom does not always appear. Further symptoms can include:

  • fever, cold hands and feet
  • vomiting and diarrhoea
  • drowsiness, difficulty waking up
  • confusion
  • irritability and/or confusion
  • aversion to bright lights
  • severe headache, joint or muscle pains
  • pale, blotchy skin with or without a rash
  • convulsions/seizures
  • stiff neck

These symptoms can appear in any order, and not everyone will get all of them. 

Read further information about meningitis from the NHS.

Responding to a suspected case of meningitis

Those experiencing symptoms of meningitis should seek medical advice immediately. Bacterial meningitis can potentially be fatal within a matter of hours and urgent treatment is vitally important. 

Any student under the age of 25 who has several of the symptoms above and suspects they may have meningitis should seek urgent medical attention by calling 999 for an ambulance, or going directly to the nearest A&E (Accident and Emergency) department. The closest A&E to UCL's main Bloomsbury campus is at UCLH.

Even if you're not sure, if meningitis is suspected it is always best to get urgent medical attention. 

If you only have one or two of the symptoms above and think it's probably not anything serious, or if you think you may have been exposed to someone with meningitis, call 111 (the NHS advice line) or your GP for guidance on what to do.

Mumps

Mumps has become more common in the past few years, especially among university students. This may be attributable to fewer people being vaccinated against it. It is part of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. 

Any students who have not had the MMR vaccine are strongly encouraged to get this before coming to UCL or as soon as possible after arrival. Two doses are required and these are usually given before the age of 5. 

When and how to get the vaccine

If you need the MMR vaccine, you should ideally have this several weeks before you arrive at university, as it can take some time for your immunity to build up.

If you're a UK student, your home GP (General Practitioner) should be able to arrange for you to have the vaccine.

If you're an international student, ask your doctor for the vaccine - depending on what's available under your local health service, you may be able to have the vaccine in your home country before you depart for the UK.

If you need the vaccine and for any reason have not had this before you arrive at UCL, speak to your GP in London as soon as you're registered to arrange this (many students will be able to register at Ridgmount Practice, our partner GP surgery, and get the vaccine here). You should have the vaccine as soon as possible to minimise your risk of infection.

Read more about registering with a GP.

Read more about the MMR vaccine from the NHS.

Symptoms 

Mumps is an acute viral illness in which the salivary parotid glands in the cheek and jaw swell and become painful. Mumps is highly infectious. It usually occurs in people who have never been or have only partially been immunised.

The main symptoms are:

  • fever, headache, tiredness, aching muscles and joints and a reduced appetite lasting several days
  • then swelling and pain of one or both salivary parotid glands lasting 4-8 days (the parotid glands are found at the side of the face just below the ears and usually cannot be seen or felt)
  • dry mouth and difficulty or pain on chewing and swallowing

About a third of people have no symptoms at all.

Mumps is normally a mild illness. However, the following complications can sometimes occur:

  • viral meningitis in 1 in 7 cases
  • encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in 1 in 400 cases, associated with deafness in one or both ears.
  • inflammation of the pancreas, heart and other organs
  • inflammation of the testes (testicles), usually on one side, in 1 in 5 adolescent or adult males, occasionally causing infertility
  • inflammation of the ovaries 1 in 20 adolescent or adult females, occasionally causing infertility

Responding to a suspected case of mumps

You should contact your GP for advice. Mention that you suspect an infectious illness – it may be preferable to have a telephone appointment rather than an in-person appointment, to reduce the risk of infection to others.

Anyone with mumps should not go to university or work for the period that they feel unwell and for five days following the onset of swollen glands. 

Careful handwashing and disposing of tissues is very important to prevent the spread of infection.