Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by many different organisms including bacteria and viruses.
There are many different causes of meningitis. The two most common organisms are viral and bacterial.
• Bacterial meningitis is life-threatening.
• Viral meningitis is rarely life-threatening, but can leave you with lifelong after-effects.
• All causes of meningitis are serious and need medical attention.
• Meningitis can affect anyone, of any age, at any time, however there are at risk groups.
• Meningitis can strike quickly and without warning, so urgent medical attention is essential.
• Vaccines are the only way to prevent meningitis, and until we have vaccines to prevent all types you need to know the signs and symptoms to look out for and the action to take.
• Most people will make a good recovery, but some will suffer life-long after-effects and complications
• Every year around 2,500 cases of bacterial meningitis, and possibly double that of viral meningitis, occurs in the UK.
• 10% of cases result in death.
• 15% of those who survive meningitis are left with severe after-effects such as brain damage, hearing and sight loss, and where septicaemia (blood poisoning) has occurred, loss of limbs and scarring.
• Meningitis kills more UK children under the age of five than any other infectious disease.
During the joyous time of pilgrimage to Hajj or Umrah, millions of people from all over the world come together in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. Because of the crowded conditions at ceremonies, accommodation sites and on public transport, those people (pilgrims) are at extra risk of contracting infectious diseases, including meningitis.
This leaflet provides important information about bacterial and viral meningitis. It explains the facts behind the fear, why it is important to be vaccinated, and how to recognise the signs and symptoms of this life-threatening disease.
Meningitis can affect anyone of any age, or ethnic background. Knowing the signs and symptoms, and taking the appropriate action, can save lives.
We are here to answer any questions you might have and to support anyone affected by the disease. We use the Language Line service, which allows us to communicate in over 100 languages. We can also provide translated documents about the disease.
Can Meningitis be prevented?
A travel vaccine is available to prevent some groups of meningococcal disease. Group A causes epidemics in Sub-Saharan Africa and results in thousands of deaths each year. In recent years, group W135 has caused outbreaks in pilgrims travelling to the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, and it is now a legal requirement that these visitors are vaccinated against W135.
The vaccine protects against groups A, C, W135 and Y, and is available for travellers to ‘at risk’ areas of the world. Always check with your GP or travel clinic for the most up-to-date vaccine information.
Adults need to have the vaccine at least three weeks before they travel. Young children may need more than one dose of
a vaccine, so allow enough time before travelling.
Always check that your vaccinations are up to date before you travel.
There is no vaccine to prevent disease caused by meningococcal group B, which is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK.
It is important that you know the signs and symptoms.
• Allow plenty of time for vaccination before you travel.
• Make sure you carry the emergency contact information provided by your travel specialist,
• Keep this leaflet with you to remind you of the signs and symptoms of meningitis.
What is meningitis?
Meningitis is inflammation of the layers that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. The most common germs that cause
meningitis are viruses and bacteria.
Viral meningitis is usually a mild disease, but sufferers can be left with headaches, tiredness and memory loss.
Bacterial meningitis is life-threatening and needs urgent medical attention. Most sufferers will recover, but many can be left with serious disabilities and one in 10 will die.
Many different bacteria can cause meningitis. In the UK and other areas of the world, including Saudi Arabia and sub-Saharan Africa,
meningitis is commonly caused by meningococcal bacteria.
What is meningococcal septicaemia?
Meningococcal bacteria can cause both meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning). Together these conditions are known as meningococcal disease.
Meningococcal septicaemia can happen with meningitis or on its own.
Meningococcal disease develops very quickly. It is important to know the signs and symptoms so that you can recognise it and get medical help quickly.
Meningitis and septicaemia can affect anyone at any age, but babies and young children are most at risk.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Early signs and symptoms can be similar to common illnesses and can include fever, headache, feeling sick, vomiting, muscle pain and cold hands and feet.
The common signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia are listed opposite.
For a copy of our symptoms card, which you can keep in your purse or wallet, please call 0800 028 18 28.
Common signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia
Children and adults
• Severe headache
• Dislike bright lights
• Stiff neck, muscle pain
• drowsy, difficult to wake
• Confusion and irritability
• Fever, cold hands and feet
• Severe muscle pain, not being able to stand
• Spots or rash (see ‘The glass test’ over the page)
• Stomach cramps and diarrhoea
• Drowsy, difficult to wake
• Confusion and irritability
Babies and toddlers may also have pale blotchy skin, rapid breathing, an unusual cry, dislike being picked up, and be difficult to wake Symptoms can appear in any order and some may not appear at all.
Meningitis and septicaemia often happen together. Make sure you know all the signs and symptoms.
Trust your instincts
If you suspect meningitis or septicaemia, get medical help immediately.
What to do if you suspect meningitis or septicaemia
• If you are on Hajj or Umrah, make sure you get immediate medical attention.
• Describe the symptoms carefully and say that you think it might be meningitis or septicaemia.
• If you have seen a doctor but are still worried, don’t be afraid to ask for medical help again.
• If you are in the UK, contact your GP or go to the nearest accident and emergency department.
How are the germs spread?
The germs that cause bacterial meningitis usually live harmlessly in the back of the throat. Most of us will carry them at some time without
becoming ill, and they help us to build up natural protection against the disease. However, the germs can sometimes invade the body and cause disease.
The germs are passed from person to person through coughing, sneezing and intimate kissing. They spread more easily in crowded places, such as during pilgrimage.
Most cases of meningitis happen alone, but when there is a case of meningococcal disease there is a small chance that more cases can happen. If you have had close contact with someone who has meningitis, you might need antibiotics to reduce the risk of more cases developing. In the UK, the local health protection unit identifies close contacts and will explain what action needs to be taken.
Bacterial meningitis and septicaemia need urgent hospital treatment with antibiotics. Recognising and treating the disease early will improve the chance of survival and a good outcome.
After meningitis and septicaemia
Although some people who have had meningitis or septicaemia make a good recovery, many are left with serious after-effects and complications. These include deafness, blindness, loss of limbs, learning difficulties and behavioural problems. The effect of the disease may
also cause people to lose their jobs and their relationships to break down.
When someone has meningitis, their family and the people around them will also be affected. For more information on after-effects and the help we can offer, call the Meningitis Trust Freephone helpline on 0800 028 18 28 or visit our website at www.meningitis-trust.org.
Source: Meningitis Trust