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Meningitis Information

WHAT IS MENINGITIS?

Meningitis means inflammation (painful swelling) of the lining of the brain.

HOW IS IT CAUSED?

There are two groups of germs which cause meningitis; firstly bacteria, which are very serious, and secondly viruses such as mumps virus which are much milder. Without hospital tests, however, it is difficult to identify the type of germ.

HOW SERIOUS IS IT?

Bacterial meningitis although fortunately quite a rare disease, is a very serious infection and needs to be recognised and treated urgently with antibiotics to prevent death or severe disability.

Three main forms of bacterial meningitis occur; meningococcal, pneumococcal and meningitis due to Haemophilus Influenzae type B (Hib). Hib is becoming much less common due to childhood vaccination against Hib.

The recent introduction of meningitis C vaccine has made this strain a less common cause of meningitis.

Viral meningitis is generally more common, less serious and does not usually need antibiotic treatment.

If meningitis is diagnosed early enough, most people will fully recover. However, in a few cases it may lead to permanent disability such as deafness or brain damage.

HOW CAN YOU TELL SOMEONE HAS MENINGITIS?

Vaccines are helping to combat only two of the causes of meningitis therefore it is essential to be aware of the signs and symptoms of infection.

Babies and toddlers:

Red flag early symptoms include:

  • cold hands and feet
  • limb pain and abnormal colour (mottling or pallor)

Early symptoms:

  • Fever.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Refusing feed/vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Fretfulness/irritable or distressed on handling.
  • Stiff/jerky movements or floppy & lifeless
  • Neck stiffness.
  • Rash of red-purple spots anywhere on body that do not pale when pressure is applied.

Late symptoms:

  • Child is difficult to wake.
  • High pitched moaning cry.
  • Pale or blotchy skin, “clammy”.
  • Widespread red-purple rash, which does not become pale on pressure.
  • Unrousable i.e. coma.
  • Seizures
  • Bulging soft spot on the head

Older children and adults:

Early symptoms:

  • Fever.
  • Vomiting.
  • Back, limb or joint pains.
  • Headache.
  • Neck stiffness.
  • Photophobia – patient finds the light painful and avoids it.
  • Confusion.
  • Red-purple rash anywhere on the body that does not go pale under pressure.
  • Shivering, cold hands & feet

Late symptoms:

  • Unrousable i.e. coma.
  • Pale/clammy.
  • Widespread red-purple rash.
  • Difficulty walking/standing
  • seizures

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU THINK IT MIGHT BE MENINGITIS?

Prevention

Seek immediate medical attention by contacting your GP (or if not available, the local Accident & Emergency Department); state clearly why you are concerned; describe the features that you have noticed in the patient. If it is bacterial meningitis, early treatment with antibiotics is vital if the patient’s life is to be saved.

HOW IS BACTERIAL MENINGITIS SPREAD?

The germ that causes bacterial meningitis is usually located in the back of the nose and throat and is spread by sneezing, kissing or coughing. Outside the body the germs quickly die, so close contact and quite long contact is needed e.g. as in households or when people stay overnight.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO LIMIT THE SPREAD?

In some types of bacterial meningitis a short course of antibiotics is offered to very close contacts of the patients to prevent further cases.

IS A VACCINE AVAILABLE?

There are many causes of meningitis and some forms of meningitis can be prevented by immunisation. For example, Hib vaccine and Meningitis C vaccine are now routinely given to babies during their second, third and fourth month.

FURTHER INFORMATION

This leaflet gives general information. If you require further details, please contact your local Health Protection Unit or your General Practitioner.

OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION

National Meningitis Trust
Fern House
Bath Road, Stroud
Glostershire, GL5 3TJ

Support line (24 hours): 0845 6000 800

Email: support@meningitis-trust.org.uk
Web: www.meningitis-trust.org.uk