Meningitis

The Meningitis Research Foundation estimates that there are around 3,300 cases of bacterial meningitis and septicaemia every year in the UK and Republic of Ireland. This means that every day nine people become ill with the diseases.  With one in ten people dying, a death will occur almost every day. A further two people will be left with life-altering after effects as severe as brain damage, deafness and multiple amputations.

Meningitis and septicaemia can kill in hours. Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. Septicaemia is the blood poisoning form of the disease.

The two forms of the disease have different symptoms. People who recover from meningitis and septicaemia may be left with a range of after effects that dramatically alter their lives.

  • Meningitis is usually bacterial or viral, and occasionally is due to fungal infections, although almost any microbe can cause it.
  • Viral meningitis can be very unpleasant but it is almost never life threatening and most people quickly make a full recovery.
  • Bacterial meningitis is more serious and can be caused by a range of different bacteria.

Most cases in the UK and Ireland are caused by meningococcal bacteria.

Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis, septicaemia or both. Most people who get the disease have some symptoms of both meningococcal meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia; together these two forms of the disease are known as meningococcal disease.

Septicaemia is the more life threatening form of the disease and is more dangerous when there are no signs of meningitis.

Other major forms of bacterial meningitis are:

Pneumococcal

Haemophilus infuenzae b (Hib)

 

Bacterial forms that mostly, though not exclusively, affect newborn babies are:

Group B Streptococcal (GBS)

E. coli

Listeria

 

There are vaccines available against some types of meningitis and septicaemia which have reduced the number of cases in the UK and Ireland:

Meningococcal Group C (MenC)

Pneumococcal vaccine in the UK

Pneumococcal vaccine in Ireland

Haemophilus infuenzae b (Hib)

 

There is also vaccination when travelling to other countries where different types of the disease are more common. However, many other equally deadly forms of the diseases are not vaccine preventable, so until research finds the key to defeating these diseases, knowing about the diseases and being able to recognise meningitis symptoms is vital.

Meningitis and septicaemia can be hard to recognise at first. Symptoms can appear in any order, but the common symptoms are fever – cold hands and feet, vomiting, headache, stiff neck, dislike of bright lights, joint or muscle pain, drowsiness, confusion, rapid breathing, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and a rash that does not disappear under pressure.

Not everyone gets all these symptoms and in some cases of meningitis a rash may not appear.

Along with brain damage, deafness and multiple amputations, those that survive meningitis and septicaemia are left with debilitating side effects. These include scarring, loss of digits (fingers, toes and thumbs), organ damage, memory loss, balance problems, aggression, personality changes, sore or stiff joints, anxiety and depression. People may also experience tiredness, clumsiness and persistent headaches.

 

If you suspect meningitis or septicaemia, get medical help immediately. You can:

 

Call NHS Direct/NHS 24 or your GP.

Go to your nearest accident and emergency department.

Dial 999 for an ambulance.

Describe the symptoms carefully and say that you think it could be meningitis or septicaemia.

Early diagnosis can be difficult. If you have had advice and are still worried, get medical help again.

Trust your instincts.