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Meningitis symptoms

Health advice for meningococcal disease (meningitis and septicaemia)

You may be aware that a student at the University has recently been admitted to hospital with suspected meningococcal disease which can cause both meningitis and septicaemia. Thankfully, the student is receiving treatment and all those who have had contact with the student have been identified and treated accordingly with antibiotics. Please read the following advice to understand the potential harm and the precautions you can take.

What is meningitis

Meningitis is an infection of the lining of the brain that can be caused by viruses or bacteria. The disease can develop rapidly, sometimes within hours. Although rare it can be extremely dangerous, resulting in deafness, blindness, paralysis, loss of arms or legs, and even death.

Meningitis is when bacteria reach the meninges (the lining around the brain and spinal cord) and cause dangerous swelling. Septicaemia is when bacteria enter the bloodstream and cause blood poisoning. Both forms of meningococcal disease can trigger sepsis – an overwhelming and life-threatening immune response to infection which can lead to organ failure.

How the disease spreads

Meningococcal bacteria are commonly carried in the back of the throat but only very rarely cause illness. The bacteria do not spread easily and only those who have had prolonged, close contact with the person who is ill are at a slightly greater risk of becoming ill themselves. The best way to stop the disease spreading is by giving antibiotics to the very close contacts of the person who is ill.

People who have not had prolonged, close contact (including classmates, friends, acquaintances, visitors to the flat etc) are NOT at any greater risk than the rest of the population and do not need antibiotics. Those who have shared drinks, e-cigarettes or cigarettes with the case but have not had prolonged close contact also have no increased risks.

Symptoms of meningococcal disease

Some of the common signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease are shown below (please note that one or more of these may develop and can appear in any order):

  • High temperature
  • Rapid breathing
  • Vomiting/ diarrhoea and stomach cramps
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Severe headache
  • Pale blotchy skin
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion and/or irritability
  • Dislike of bright light
  • Drowsiness or difficult to wake
  • Rash/ bruising rash
  • Seizures/ fits

Protecting against meningococcal disease

Students aged up to 25 years old are encouraged to have the MenACWY vaccine. It protects you against groups A, C, W and Y meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning). The vaccine is not live and cannot give you the disease. You only need one dose, which should protect you for the rest of your life.

MenACWY vaccine does not protect against meningitis B, which is bacterial and very dangerous. Even if a person has been vaccinated with the MenACWY vaccine, they can still get meningitis B so be aware of the symptoms and get medical help urgently

Please ensure you are up to date with your vaccinations with your GP practice. Be watchful for signs and symptoms even if you are up to date with vaccinations as available vaccines do not protect against all causes of the disease.

What to do in an emergency

  • call 999
  • call NHS 111 (when it’s less urgent than 999)
  • go to A&E, Royal Sussex County Hospital, Eastern Road, Brighton. Telephone: 01273 696955 (ext 4264)
  • go to A&E, Eastbourne DGH, Kings Drive, Eastbourne. Telephone: 01323 417400
  • go to A&E, Conquest Hospital, The Ridge, St Leonards-on-Sea. Telephone: 01424 755255
  • if you need to see a GP urgently, contact the GP practice you are registered with

Further information on meningococcal disease is available from:

healthMenACWYmeningitismeningococcal diseasevaccine

Robin Coleman • 8 December 2022

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