This advice follows a report from Public Health England (PHE) that showed a continuing rise in cases of MenW since 2009. Whilst the number of MenW cases and overall risk remains very low, there has been an increase in prevalence with 117 cases last year.
Andrew Pollard, Chair of the The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said:
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. We have therefore advised the Department of Health to implement a vaccination programme for teenagers as soon as possible which we believe will have a substantial impact on the disease and protect the public’s health.
The Department of Health has accepted JCVI’s advice and is now planning the implementation of a combined MenACWY immunisation programme.
John Watson, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, said:
We accept JCVI’s advice for an immunisation programme to combat this devastating disease. We are working with NHS England, Public Health England and the vaccine manufacturer to develop a plan to tackle the rising number of MenW cases.
Dr Shamez Ladhani, Paediatric Infectious Disease Consultant at PHE, said:
Meningococcal group W disease is a rare but life-threatening infection in children and adults. We will now work with the Government and NHS England to roll out a vaccination programme.
It’s crucial that we all remain alert to the signs and symptoms of the disease and seek urgent medical attention if there is any concern. The disease develops rapidly and early symptoms can include headache, vomiting, muscle pain and fever with cold hands and feet. Be aware of all signs and symptoms - and don’t wait for a rash to develop before seeking urgent medical attention.
PHE is also urging health professionals to be mindful of the increase in MenW disease and maintain a high index of suspicion across all age groups. Early recognition and effective treatment with antibiotics for patients with invasive MenW disease can be life-saving.
MenW was discussed at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) meeting on 4 February 2015. Read the minutes from the meeting.
MenW cases caused by the emergence of a particularly virulent strain have been increasing year-on-year, from 22 cases confirmed in 2009 to 117 confirmed in 2014. Latest figures for January 2015 show that there were 34 laboratory-confirmed MenW cases in England, compared to 18 in January 2014 and 9 in January 2013. See the Meningococcal group W disease in England: laboratory-confirmed cases to end January 2015 Health Protection Report.
The meningococcal bacteria, Neisseria meningitidis, are the leading cause of septicaemia and meningitis in the UK. Six different types of meningococci, known as serogroups A, B, C, W, X, and Y are responsible for most of the disease across the globe. For decades, meningococcal group B has been the main serogroup responsible for over 90% of meningococcal disease, although incidence has been falling since 2000.
Meningococcal group C was also common until the MenC vaccine was introduced in 1999, reducing cases to just a handful each year.
Currently, vaccination against MenW disease is not included in the UK’s immunisation schedule, but it is recommended for groups at increased risk of infection such as those with splenic dysfunction, and for travel to certain parts of the world - so remaining alert to the signs and symptoms of the disease is crucial. MenW is potentially preventable through vaccination with the quadrivalent MenACWY conjugate vaccine.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is an independent expert advisory committee of the Department of Health. The JCVI has a responsibility to provide high quality and considered advice and recommendations to the UK Health Ministers. This includes giving advice on recommendations on matters of both a ‘routine’ nature and also on any specific or special matters that Ministers may request. In formulating any advice and recommendations, the Committee must take into account the need for and impact of vaccines, the quality of vaccines and the strategies to ensure that their greatest benefit to the public health can be obtained from the most appropriate use of vaccines.
More detailed information on the symptoms of meningococcal disease is available on NHS Choices.