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There are no truer words than these when it comes to meningitis.

From the minute a patient is infected, the countdown begins, and could lead to disability, coma or death! Meningitis can affect anyone, at any age, (although various factors do increase the risk of contracting find out more here from Meningitis Research) and that’s why it’s vital we know more about this silent disease.

Recognition of symptoms, together with rapid diagnosis and treatment are the only ways to challenge this efficient killer of both adults and children alike. So let’s take a look at some of the basic (but very important) meningitis facts.

What is meningitis?

The NHS define meningitis as ‘an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain spinal cord (meninges). It can cause septicaemia (potentially fatal blood poisoning) and permanently damage the nerves and brain.

Meningitis is usually bacterial or viral, and occasionally stems from fungal infections, although it can be caused by almost any microbe.

Viral Meningitis

While viral meningitis can be very unpleasant, it is almost never life-threatening, with most people making a full recovery. However, some are left with a range of life-changing after-effects, once meningitis and/or septicaemia has been successfully treated.

Bacterial Meningitis

This is much more serious (and, in fact, life-threatening) than its viral form and can be caused by a range of different bacteria. Most cases in the UK and Ireland are caused by meningococcal bacteria, many of which display symptoms of both meningococcal meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia; together these two forms are known as meningococcal disease. Septicaemia is the deadliest form of the disease and far more dangerous when it displays no signs of meningitis.

What are the symptoms of meningitis?

Meningitis and septicaemia can kill in hours, so it’s vital to know the warning signs! The first symptoms are usually fever, vomiting, headache and generally feeling unwell.

These symptoms are more specific to meningitis and septicaemia and less common in other milder illnesses. Limb pain, pale skin, and cold hands and feet often appear earlier than the rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion.

See the infographic below which explains the specific signs and symptoms of meningitis, septicaemia, and/or both in babies and toddlers.

symptoms of meningitis in a baby - Fleximed first aid training
Symptoms of meningitis - fleximed first aid training

Septicaemia can occur with or without meningitis. Not everyone gets all the symptoms and they can appear in any order. So it’s worth knowing and remembering this fact.

What should I do if I suspect meningitis?

Use the Fleximed number one rule! “If in doubt call them out.”

Either speak to your doctor or dial 999 and inform them that you “suspect meningitis”. This will allow the emergency services to prioritise correctly, and if necessary, have an infectious disease team prepped to receive the patient when they arrive at hospital.

If you suspect Meningitis DO NOT be afraid to call an ambulance! It is better to be safe than sorry.

What are the after-effects of meningitis?

Meningitis, on many occasions, leaves its victims with long-term complications and health issues such as:

  • Memory loss / difficulty retaining information / lack of concentration

  • Clumsiness / co-ordination problems

  • Residual headaches

  • Deafness / hearing problems / tinnitus / dizziness, loss of balance

  • Learning difficulties (ranging from temporary learning deficiencies to permanent mental impairment)

  • Epilepsy / seizures (fits)

  • Weakness, paralysis or spasms of part of body (if permanent, sometimes called ‘cerebral palsy’)

  • Speech problems

  • Loss of sight/changes in sight

What are the common after-effects of septicaemia?

  • Memory loss / difficulty retaining information / lack of concentration

  • Clumsiness / co-ordination problems

  • Arthritis / stiffness in joints

  • Scarring / skin damage

  • Amputations - for example, fingers, toes, arms or legs

  • Kidney damage

  • Lung damage

As you can see, both meningitis and septicaemia are very serious diseases. The best defence against this killer is vigilance and swift action. While there are vaccinations against many forms of meningitis, they do not cover every strain, so never assume that you and your family are immune.

My final word of advice?

Always, always, always seek medical advice if you have any concerns.

For further information visit:

Until next time, stay safe and healthy.


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