As children and teens have now started back at nursery/school we wanted to share some information about this serious disease which becomes more common in settings like these where groups come together in close proximity.
Meningitis can kill in a matter of hours, which is why it’s so important to recognise the symptoms and act as fast as possible.
So, what is meningitis?
Meningitis is an infection of the lining that surrounds the spinal cord (meninges) and the brain.i The disease is rare, but the consequences of meningitis are severe, and it can be fatal if not treated quickly enough. In the UK, meningococcal bacteria are the most common cause of bacterial meningitis. One in ten people carry the bacteria in the back of their throats, but this only rarely leads to the disease itself. The five main groups or strains of meningitis are A, B, C, W and Y and the most common is meningitis B, which causes over half of all serious cases in the UK.
The bacteria spread from person-to-person and can be transmitted through sharing of cutlery, sneezing, coughing and kissing, which is why it’s more common in large group settings.2
A recent survey shows that only 18% of parents surveyed are confident that they can spot the signs and symptoms of meningitis. It can be hard to recognise meningitis, because in the early stages the symptoms can be mistaken for other milder viral illnesses like flu. It’s important to look out for these early symptoms such as vomiting, headache, muscle pain and cold hands and feet, with a fever. Symptoms vary according to age, so in infants, they can include drowsiness/floppiness, refusing to feed and a bulging soft spot (fontanelle).
Should I be waiting for the rash?
Most parents will be familiar with the rash which doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it, but this is a sign that the disease is advancing quickly. A rash doesn’t appear in all cases either, so it’s key that people don’t wait for it to appear before taking action. Dr Philip Cruz, vaccines medical director for GSK in the United Kingdom and Ireland, says: “the rash can be a sign of septicaemia, or blood poisoning, which normally happens once bacterial meningitis has taken hold. This can be one of the last symptoms to appear, so it’s important that parents don’t wait for the rash and act fast if they suspect meningitis”.
Who is affected by meningitis?
Meningitis can affect anyone, but the most at-risk group is babies/infants, followed by teenagers and young adults. If not treated quickly, the effects of meningitis can be very serious, with the potential to cause fatal blood poisoning.
One in twenty cases of meningitis result in death and rates are higher in children and adolescents.
Over a third of children and adolescents who survive meningitis live with life-long physical, cognitive and psychological complications. Possible effects of the disease are hearing loss, kidney failure, limb loss and permanent nerve and brain damage such as; memory difficulties, learning difficulties, separation anxiety disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
If I suspect that my child has meningitis, what do I do?
You know your child and are the best person to sense if something’s not quite right. Trust your instincts and if you feel that their illness has gone beyond what is normal, seek the nearest medical help immediately.
How do I protect my child?
The survey also found that 65% of parents are not sure which type of meningitis their child/teen has been vaccinated against. There are vaccinations available against some of the strains of meningitis, but not all, which is why it is so important to be aware of the symptoms. Currently there is a meningitis B vaccination and a combined meningitis ACWY vaccination. For more information, speak to a healthcare professional.
GB Paralympian Aaron Phipp’s is raising awareness
GSK has paired up with GB Paralympian Aaron Phipps to run the Tackle Meningitis campaign which aims to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of meningitis, age ranges at risk and ways to protect children from getting the disease.
Aaron Phipps is a GB Paralympian and meningitis survivor. He contracted meningitis in his teens, and the disease began with harmless flu-like symptoms. He spent two weeks in a coma after being hospitalised and a year recovering and rehabilitating after being discharged. He has gone on to become an impressive athlete, playing wheelchair rugby and climbing Kilimanjaro – the first disabled person to do so without assistance.
“I was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis at the age of 15 and know only too well the devastating long-term consequences the disease can have. Thankfully I was able to recover, but not without having both of my legs and most of my fingers amputated as a result of septicaemia (blood poisoning). My symptoms were similar to flu, but within 12 hours I was hospitalised and on life support. I urge parents and teens to familiarise themselves with the early symptoms and look into prevention options, so children have the best fighting chance against this disease”
Where can I learn more about meningitis?
Visit Tackle Meningitis.org and speak to your local GP/Nurse/Pharmacist
1. World Health Organization (WHO). Meningococcal meningitis.
2. Meningitis Now. Signs and symptoms in children and young people.
3. Public Health England. Invasive meningococcal disease in England: annual laboratory confirmed reports for epidemiological year 2017-2018. Available at:
4. 2019 Tackle Meningitis market research data on file, REF-38492. Date of preparation: September 2019. Nationwide survey of 860 teens (5-minute online quantitative survey) and 2,000 parents of teens (10 minute online quantitative survey), conducted by medeConnect Healthcare Insight, July and August 2019.
5. Vaccine Knowledge Project. Meningococcal disease.
6. Viner, Russel M, et al. Outcomes of invasive meningococcal serogroup B disease in children and adolescents (MOSAIC): a case-control study. The Lancet Neurology 2012, 11: 774-783.
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