Leading charities highlight UK as European meningitis hotspot

‘Pledge to Protect’ launched on World Meningitis Day, urging parents to Keep Watching for meningitis

Today, in support of World Meningitis Day, the UK’s leading meningitis charities have joined forces to call on parents to educate themselves about bacterial meningitis, an illness that kills more children under five in the UK than any other infectious disease[i]. With the UK highlighted as one of the top three meningitis hotspots in Europe[ii], the charities are calling for parents to ‘Pledge to Protect’ their children by learning about the signs and symptoms of meningitis and spreading the word through their joint campaign Meningitis: Keep Watching.

The UK has some of the highest rates of bacterial meningitis (the type that can kill within hours) in Europe2, so the need to spread the word about the disease is more urgent than ever.

The charities originally joined forces to launch Meningitis: Keep Watching last September, prompted by concerns that many parents mistakenly think their children are protected against all types of the disease. The campaign has already attracted a great deal of support from parents through the Meningitis: Keep Watching Facebook page (www.meningitiskeepwatching.co.uk), along with backing from the Picturehouse cinema chain and leading parenting website Netmums; however World Meningitis Day provides another opportunity to talk to parents about meningitis and engage them in spreading awareness.

Despite successful vaccination programmes in the UK, children are currently not protected against Meningitis B – the most common form of bacterial meningitis in the UK[iii]. This can lead to parents missing the symptoms and delays in seeking medical advice, which can cost lives. The scale of the problem is highlighted in research showing that more than two-thirds of parents in the UK are unaware that current vaccinations do not protect their children from all forms of the disease.[iv]

“One of the biggest myths is that children are protected against all types of meningitis through vaccination and this is, in reality, not the case”, says Dr Nelly Ninis, Consultant Paediatrician at St Mary’s Hospital London and supporter of the Meningitis: Keep Watching campaign. “Children are only protected against some types of meningitis so parents must be aware of the signs and seek urgent medical help as this disease can maim or kill within hours.” 

Anyone can catch bacterial meningitis at anytime. As many as one in ten of those infected will die[v] and up to one in five survivors will be left with after-effects including brain damage, amputations and hearing loss which may require ongoing care[vi].

Meningitis Research Foundation, Meningitis Trust and Meningitis UK have united for the Meningitis: Keep Watching campaign. The Facebook initiative includes an awareness film and fun quiz to help educate parents about what to look out for and utilises social media so people can spread the word easily through their networks of friends and family.

Meningitis: Keep Watching is now urging parents and families to ‘Pledge to Protect’ their children from meningitis by:

  • Encouraging their friends to be meningitis aware by sharing the film
  • Learning more about the signs and symptoms of meningitis
  • Ensuring their child’s vaccinations are up to date

“We cannot stress enough the importance of knowledge and awareness when it comes to meningitis”, said the meningitis charities in a joint statement. “Around six families a week lose a loved one to this devastating disease and we are working hard to help families avoid having to face this horrific situation.  We are appealing to parents to visit the Keep Watching Facebook page and learn about meningitis and take the Pledge to Protect. This information could ultimately save lives.”

To Pledge to Protect visit www.meningitiskeepwatching.co.uk

The campaign has been made possible with the support of Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics Limited.

About meningitis

Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. These bacteria usually live harmlessly in the back of the throat. Most of us will carry them at some stage in our lives without becoming ill, and they help us build up natural immunity (protection against the disease). Occasionally, these germs get past the body’s defences and cause infection.

Symptoms of meningitis include fever, vomiting, severe headache, rash (not present in all cases), stiff neck*, dislike of bright lights*, very sleepy/vacant/difficult to wake, confused/deliriousness and seizures (fits). *Unusual in young children. Other symptoms in babies include a tense or bulging fontanelle (soft spot on the head), refusing to feed, being irritable when picked up with a high pitched or moaning cry, a stiff body with jerky movements or a floppy and lifeless body.

About World Meningitis Day                                                                                                           

World Meningitis Day is organised by CoMo (Confederation of Meningitis Organisations) and is a global organisation dedicated to raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of meningitis, the urgency for treatment and for prevention through vaccination. It has grown over the past three years and now reaches across the globe from North and South America, through Europe to the Middle East, into the Indian subcontinent and throughout South East Asia and the Far East to Australia. 

This year’s campaign is calling on governments to include meningitis preventing vaccines in their country’s National Immunisation Programme. CoMo have launched a petition called ‘Join Hands against meningitis’ asking people to show support for meningitis vaccines and help reduce the number of people affected by the disease. Anyone wishing to sign the global petition can do so by visiting: www.comomeningitis.org or http://www.causes.com/actions/1733876-join-hands-against-meningitis.

World Meningitis Day is sponsored by Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics.

About Meningitis Research Foundation

Meningitis Research Foundation has a vision for a world free from meningitis and septicaemia. We have spent over £16.5 million on research projects into the prevention, detection and treatment of the diseases. We also spend around £1m annually supporting those affected, raising public awareness and educating health professionals.

Our Freefone helpline – 080 8800 3344 – is operated by trained staff and available 365 days. It provides information to the general public and health professionals and can handle queries in 150 languages. We also have extensive information, research insights and case studies on our website www.meningitis.org   

About Meningitis Trust and Meningitis UK

The two national charities have recently merged to provide an even louder voice and more strength to beat meningitis. The combined charity will still deliver the priorities of Meningitis UK and the Meningitis Trust – preventative research and lifelong support – whilst strengthening our crucial education and awareness work. Look out for the launch of a new charity brand later this year. In the meantime, our lifesaving work will continue as usual.


[i] Office for National Statistics. Mortality statistics: Deaths registered in 2010 (Series DR) Table 5.1 Available at: www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/re-referencetables. html?edition=tcm%3A77-230730 Accessed April 2013.

[ii] Adapted from: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control: Annual epidemiological report Reporting on 2010 surveillance data and 2011 epidemic intelligence data 2012

[iii] Meningitis Research Foundation. UK Facts and Figures (webpage). Available at: www.meningitis.org/facts Accessed April 2013.

[iv] Rodrigo C, Bakhache P, Rose M, et al. Parental awareness and knowledge about invasive meningococcal disease: results of a multinational survey. Poster presented at the 30th Annual Meeting of the European Society for Paediatric Infectious Diseases, 8-12 May 2012.

[v] World Health Organization. Meningococcal meningitis. Fact sheet #141. November 2012 update. Available at: www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs141/en/. Accessed April 2013.

[vi] Rosenstein NE, et al. Meningococcal disease. N Engl J Med 2001;344:1378-88;