Edinburgh is at risk of another outbreak: vaccines are the answer

Despite the fact that vaccinations are universally accessible and readily available to all students at Edinburgh, we as a student body have been plagued by the spread of incapacitating critical illnesses such as mumps, measles and meningitis. NHS Lothian documented over 150 cases of mumps between September and December of last year, manifestations of the viral contagion predominantly affecting young adults of student age. Meningitis contraction is scarcer during this time period, yet is still a prevalent threat to students due to its highly contagious, communicable nature and often life-threatening prognosis, demanding immediate medical attention upon suspected diagnosis.

To determine how much work Edinburgh is already doing, The Student consulted Karen Darling, Deputy Director of the university’s Health and Safety Department. She cited the department’s provision of information about getting vaccinated prior to matriculation, which can be found both on the university website and in new students’ Welcome Packs. In addition, Darling drew attention to the department’s close association with NHS Lothian’s Health Protection Team, evidenced in their combined initiative to administer the MMR vaccination to over 1000 at-risk recipients in response to the measles outbreak of autumn 2016.

Whilst these are significant steps in the right direction, there is still more to be done. These are acutely dangerous and debilitating diseases; meningitis can kill within hours and mumps not only forces sufferers, whilst in excruciating pain, to quarantine themselves to avoid pathogenic spread, but can also consequent in male infertility. Posters recommending immunisation should flood the toilet doors and pinboards of the general areas of campus; personal tutors should use first meetings not only to matriculate tutees, but also to implore that students ensure all vaccinations are topped up. Perhaps the university could go as far as to organise medical kiosks administering both the MenACWY and the MMR in easily-identifiable places during Freshers’ Week, making immunisation more convenient in access and location.

Of course, the university and its associated body of student support can only do so much. We, as students, must be vigilant in recognising the signs of infection, not only to enable rapid treatment and quick recovery but also to ensure that contamination is contained. This, really, is at the crux of the matter: vaccinating yourself is not merely a personal deed but a public service, because whilst your healthy immune system may combat infection competently, the compromised immune system of your neighbour may not fare so well.

As a fully vaccinated member of the 150 people that contracted mumps last year, I can corroborate the assessments of the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) that the mumps component of the MMR is only ‘88 per cent effective’. I had the vaccination; I got mumps anyway. Sometimes, we’re just unlucky. Nevertheless, we must continue to take every precaution we possibly can to immobilise these vicious ailments – by spreading the word, raising awareness of the symptoms, and getting vaccinated, even if the intended effects do not always come into fruition. We must work as a community to ensure that the only ‘Fresher’s Flu’ we contract is the one that ends in a sniffle and a cough rather than hospitalisation and quarantine.

Image: Areca T. Wilson via News.science360.gov

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The Student Newspaper 2016