Examining MenB carriage amongst first-year university students

Dr Neil Oldfield, Dr David Turner, Professor Christopher Bayliss
Start Date
01 Aug 2023
University of Nottingham, Nottingham, England

What is this project about?

The team will investigate how meningococcal group B (MenB) bacteria are carried and spread amongst first-year university students following their arrival on campus at the University of Nottingham. Health-care professionals will swab the back of students’ throats to assess how carriage of MenB changes across the first two months of the academic year. During this time, the students will also swab their own throats each week. This will help assess whether self-taken throat swabs have a similar sensitivity for the detection of bacteria as those taken by health-care professionals.
Any MenB bacteria recovered from the throat swabs will be subject to whole genome sequencing. These DNA sequences will allow the team to resolve the recovered MenB into different types. These can then be mapped to show the prevalence and spread of different kinds of MenB in the students during their first term at university.
The sequences will also be used to predict whether the circulating MenB could be covered by the MenB vaccines - 4CMenB (Bexsero) and MenB-FHbp (Trumenba). Comparing the strains detected in this study to other work from before the pandemic will determine whether there has been a change in the types of MenB strains circulating amongst students.

Why is this important?

New university entrants, particularly those living on campus, have a much higher risk of developing meningococcal disease than those who do not attend higher education.

In the UK, MenACWY vaccination has been routinely offered to adolescents since 2015, and as a result, most teenagers are now protected from meningococcal A, C, W and Y disease. One important way that MenACWY vaccines work is by stopping the spread of the bacteria from person-to-person. There is an urgent need to better understand the spread of MenB in adolescents and young adults as these populations remain susceptible to MenB, because the MenB vaccination is only provided to infants and does not stop transmission.

Potential Outcomes:

This study will provide an up-to-date picture of which MenB strains are circulating in university students - a key population that is still vulnerable to MenB disease, and in which meningococcal carriage and transmission has been shown to be particularly common. In turn, this will enable the researchers to:
  • Determine whether meningococcal carriage in new students has changed in prevalence or type of MenB strains circulating in this population since the pandemic or in comparison to other population groups (E.g., younger teenagers) and to disease cases.
  • Provide information relevant to potential future MenB vaccination programmes.
  • Assess whether weekly self-swabbing will allow for more frequent samples to be collected, providing a more in-depth view of transmission. If the self-swabbing approach is considered a success, this approach would make it easier and cheaper to undertake future carriage studies, as participants would not need to see a health care professional for the collection of samples.

This project has been funded by The Jessica Bethell Charitable Foundation, in memory of Jessica, who tragically died from MenB in 2012, aged just 24 years.

Since the charity was founded in 1989, we have awarded 161 research grants. The total value of our investment in vital scientific research is over £19.1 million (€24.7 million).
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Amelia Slay
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