Meningitis Awareness Week (19th – 25th September) is designed to increase knowledge about the symptoms of the disease.
Meningitis is a serious condition so it’s important to be aware of the warning signs of the disease and know what to do if you suspect that you or a family member are suffering from it.
Meningitis is the inflammation of the protective membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord. There are two types of meningitis: bacterial and viral.
Bacterial meningitis is the more serious of the two types. It can lead to blood poisoning (septicaemia) and brain damage if left untreated. The condition often progresses very quickly, so it’s important to beware of the early warning signs.
Early warning signs of bacterial meningitis can include:
• High temperature, usually associated with shivering and having very cold feet and hands.
• Pain in muscles, joints or limbs, such as in the legs or hands and stiffness in the neck
• Persistent, severe vomiting
• Severe headache
• Light hurting your eyes – photophobia
• Rash – which is spreading and does not disappear when pressed with a glass.
If you suspect a case of the disease, contact your GP as soon as possible. If it is out of normal working hours – go to the nearest walk in clinic or call the out of hours (OOH) number on 0300 300 2012. You could also get advise from NHS Direct on 0845 4647.
Later symptoms of the condition can include drowsiness, confusion, seizures or fits.
Symptoms of bacterial meningitis differ in babies and young children. Some babies will develop a swelling in the soft part of their head.
Symptoms in babies and young children can include:
• Becoming floppy and unresponsive, or stiff with jerky movements
• Becoming irritable and not wanting to be held
• Unusual crying
• Vomiting and refusing feeds
• Pale and blotchy skin
• Loss of appetite
• Staring expression
• Being very sleepy with a reluctance to wake up
Bacterial meningitis is treated in hospital with antibiotics, which kill the bacteria that cause the illness.
Viral meningitis is less serious and is generally treated with bed rest and a dose of pain killers. Symptoms are less severe than those of bacterial meningitis, and are similar to those of flu, including a high temperature and aching muscles.
Meningitis can affect anyone, but there are groups of people who are more susceptible to the illness, such as babies, teenagers and young adults. If you have children, ensure you are aware of the warning signs and act quickly.
There are routine vaccinations that prevent some strains of the disease but not all. The MenC vaccination gives protection against a certain form of meningitis. It is given to babies when they are three and four months old and then again at twelve months. The three doses are to make sure the recipient develops a good immune response to protect against the disease. The vaccination is also available to anyone under 25 who has not already received it. Contact your GP surgery for more information.
To find out more about meningitis, visit www.nhs.uk.