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Meningitis: Know the facts

4th November 2013

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Students who have recently gained places at university are being encouraged to be aware of the dangers of meningitis.

A 2010 study by Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) found that of the 1060 students surveyed over 10% of students in the UK have not heard of the disease and do not know whether they have been vaccinated against it. MRF revealed that students ranked themselves as the second least at risk group – when in fact they are the second most at risk, after babies and young children.

What is meningitis?

It is an infection of the meninges (protective membranes) that surround the brain and spinal cord. The infection causes the meninges to become inflamed which in some cases can damage the nerves and brain.

The two most common organisms are viruses and bacteria. Viral meningitis is usually a mild disease, but can make people very unwell. It is caused by viruses that are spread through coughing, sneezing and poor hygiene; it can often get mistaken for flu. Bacterial Meningitis can be life-threatening and needs urgent medical attention. Most people who suffer from bacterial meningitis recover, but many can be left with a variety of after-effects and one in 10 will die.


Both viral and bacterial Meningitis can cause various symptoms, they can appear in any order and some may not appear at all. You should seek medical help if you or anyone you know displays some of these common features:

  • A high body temperature (fever) of 38°C (100.4°F) or higher
  • Pale blotchy skin and/or a rash that doesn’t go away when pressing a glass or other ‘see through’ material against it
  • Feeling or being sick, and feeling generally unwell
  • Severe headache
  • A stiff neck
  • Becoming sensitive to light
  • Confusion, irritability and drowsiness
  • Being difficult to wake
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Fits
  • Rapid breathing
  • Cold hands and feet
To learn more about spotting meningitis and septicaemia (including the typical rash) and to download a free meningitis app, visit the Meningitis Now website at

Dr Knut Schroeder, a general practitioner and director of Expert Self Care gave us his insight into the treatment options available and what you should do if you think you have Meningitis.


The viral form of meningitis tends to get better by itself, normally within about two weeks. Painkillers for the headache and plenty of rest are usually all that is needed. If vomiting is troublesome, anti-sickness tablets can help with relieving symptoms.

Suspected bacterial meningitis is treated with medicines that fight bacterial infections (antibiotics), which are given directly into the blood stream. Treatment usually starts without delay, even before the diagnosis has been confirmed, and will be continued in hospital.

What you should do if you think you have Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis can be a medical emergency, because the blood poisoning can be deadly. So if you notice any of the symptoms or signs of meningitis in yourself or someone else, seek medical help immediately. This may mean calling a doctor if you’re unsure what to do next, going to the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your local hospital. Call ‘999’ for an ambulance if symptoms get worse quickly or confusion, drowsiness, fits or the typical rash develop

To find out more about preventing the various forms of meningitis, visit NHS Choices.

Have you been affected by meningitis and need support?

If so, there is help here for you.  Meningitis Trust provide a wide range of free professional support that is available to you 24/7. Plus Meningitis UK and a medical negligence firm have created a guide to help coping with the effects of meningitis.

Alongside health advice, before embarking on their studies, students should also be educated about personal safety and how to budget to ensure they get the most out of their university journey and don’t get themselves into difficulties.

Written with the help of Knut Schroeder of Expert Self Care.

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