SCIENTISTS at the University of York have shed new light on why teenagers and young adults are particularly susceptible to meningitis and septicaemia.

A team from the university’s biology department has discovered a pathway in the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, a major cause of meningitis and septicaemia, that may explain why this age group is particularly at risk.

The results of the research, which was supported by the Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders (C2D2), are reported in the journal Molecular Microbiology.

N. meningitidis is a leading cause of infectious disease among teenagers and young adults. While it is well known that these bacteria are found in large numbers in the upper respiratory tract among adolescents, the reasons for this are unknown.

Dr Maria-Chiara Catenazzi, said: “The capacity of N. meningitidis to colonise adolescents or young adults is important for its transmission and disease epidemiology.

“This increase in carriage in young adulthood is frequently attributed to increased social interaction and contact in this age group. While this is no doubt true, here we present for the first time a mechanistic explanation for why N. meningitidis carriage varies with age, based on the genetic properties of N. meningitidis and co-colonising microbes in the human host.”