SIXTH formers across St Helens are being encouraged to request a meningitis vaccine booster from their GP before they set off for university or college.

University halls of residence or shared accommodation provide the ideal conditions for the MenC disease to spread quickly – putting new students at risk, St Helens Council has warned.

Following a recommendation by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, a vaccination programme for freshers is now being introduced.

Prospective students will be informed through UCAS ( that they are eligible for the vaccine.

However, GP practices can offer the vaccine to any young people expecting to go to university and requesting the vaccination.

Practices will not be required to identify or contact prospective patients.

Young people are more at risk of getting meningitis shortly after starting university, when they will be mixing closely with lots of new people - some of whom may unknowingly carry the meningococcal bacteria.

A vaccination will boost immunity at just the right time - before students arrive at their new college or university and when the risk of meningitis is highest.

Meningococcal infection can cause meningitis (inflammation of the brain) or septicaemia (blood poisoning).

Common early symptoms, which are not always present, may include:

• A rash that does not fade when pressed with a glass (known as the tumbler test) due to bleeding under the skin

• Sudden onset of high fever

• A severe and worsening headache (without any other obvious cause) • Severe neck stiffness

• Dislike of bright lights

• Very cold hands and feet

• Drowsiness that can deteriorate into a fever

St Helens Council’s Director of Public Health Liz Gaulton said: “Meningitis is a really serious illness, so it’s absolutely vital that anyone due to start college or university gets the MenC vaccine.

It’s a good opportunity to check that you have had all your other vaccinations too.

“University bars and campuses, where lots of students are in close proximity, are ideal places for bacteria and viruses to spread, which is why we may see more outbreaks in these environments.

“If you, your friend or a family member receive a letter from UCAS about the new MenC booster for freshers, then contact your GP to request the vaccine.”

From Autumn 2013 Meningitis C has been offered to 14 year olds in school.

However young people going off to university will have been too old to benefit from this new programme – which is why they are being offered the immunisation now.