THOUSANDS of teenagers across Hampshire are to take part in a major meningitis vaccine study.

Students in colleges are participating in a landmark national study that could lead to the introduction of a routine meningitis vaccine for all teenagers.

The study involves more than 24,000 sixth-form students aged 16 to 19 being immunised against meningitis B, the most common cause of meningococcal disease in teenagers, with one of two licensed vaccines.

Meningitis is a rare but life-threatening infection which develops around the surface of the brain and is caused by bacteria known as meningococcus.

“We want to see if immunising teenagers with vaccines against meningitis B can reduce the number carrying these bacteria in their throat,” said Prof Saul Faust, director of the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility.

“This would be important because it could mean that teenage meningitis B immunisation would not only help to protect teenagers against these potentially deadly diseases but also that babies, children and older adults are less likely to be exposed to the bacteria.

“In short, immunising teenagers with a meningitis B vaccine might mean lower rates of meningitis across all ages.

“The vaccine is already routinely given to babies at two, four and 12 months of age in the UK and used widely in the USA among students going to college and university,” Prof Faust added.

According to researchers, around 10% of teenagers carry the bacteria in the back of their nose and throat without causing any symptoms but, if it invades the bloodstream, it can cause permanent damage to the brain and nerves and potentially fatal blood poisoning known as septicaemia.

All participants in the trial, known as ‘Be on the Team’, will receive two doses of either 4CMenB (Bexsero) or MenB-fHBP (Trumenba) with a one to six-month interval between each dose.

The research team will then collect throat samples and compare rates of ‘carriage’ of the bacteria before and after vaccination, with all visits carried out at students’ colleges.

Researchers have already completed visits to four colleges, with Peter Symonds College on Wednesday and Eastleigh, Itchen and Totton to follow next year.