Meningitis

  • Meningitis means inflammation of the meninges, the lining of the brain. It can be caused by several different germs, mainly bacteria and viruses. Bacterial meningitis is quite rare but it can be very serious and needs urgent treatment with antibiotics.

    There are two main bacterial forms: Meningococcal and Pneumococcal.

    Meninogococcal Meningitis, and particularly the group B strain, is the most common form in the UK, accounting for over half the cases. Group C strain is being effectively prevented with the new vaccine.

    How can you tell if someone has Meningitis?

    Symptoms

    • Vomiting
    • High temperature
    • Violent or severe headache
    • Neck stiffness
    • Dislike of bright lights
    • Drowsiness, lethargy
    • Joint pains
    • Fitting
    • Rash
    • Confusion

    With two or more of these symptoms, consult your GP to eliminate a diagnosis of meningitis. Meningitis is not easy to identify at first because the symptoms are similar to those of flu.

    meningitis rash Call a doctor immediately if someone has this rash. Recognising the symptoms early could mean the difference between life and death. Someone with meningitis will become very ill. The illness may progress over one or two days, but it can develop quickly and sometimes in just a few hours the patient will become seriously ill. Not all these symptoms will show at once.

    How is it spread?

    The bacteria live naturally in the back of the nose and throat. People of any age can carry these germs without becoming ill.

    • They spread between people by coughing, sneezing and kissing.
    • It is only rarely that they overcome the body's defences and cause meningitis.
    • They cannot be picked up from water supplies, swimming pools or buildings.

    Viral meningitis is more common than bacterial meningitis, although rarely life threatening it can be very debilitating. Viral meningitis can be caused by many different viruses - spread between people by coughing and sneezing or poor hygiene. Viral meningitis cannot be helped by antibiotics and treatment is based on good nursing care. The person normally recovers completely but headaches, tiredness and depression may occur.

    As the symptoms are similar to bacterial meningitis, a correct diagnosis is important and tests need to be carried out to determine if the symptoms are due to the viral or bacterial form. Please get medical advice.

    How is it treated?

    Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial meningitis. If meningoccal form is suspected by the GP, the patient should have penicillin, by injection, before being admitted to hospital.

    Antibiotics are also prescribed for immediate family / household members or any others who have been in very close contact with the person, in the week before the onset of illness. The aim is to reduce carriage by the closest contacts. Only very close household contacts of the patient are at an increased risk of contracting meningitis. Other contacts such as student friends or work mates are only very rarely at higher risk and do not normally need special treatment or investigation.

    Stopping smoking helps your health generally and research has indicated that it may reduce the chances of getting meningitis in the family.

    Further information and help

    You can pick up a leaflet on meningitis from the Medical Centre on campus.

    Meningitis Trust
    24 hour helpline: 0808 8010 388 (freephone)
    Tel: (01453) 76800
    Website: www.meningitis-trust.org 
    Registered Office: Fern House, Bath Road, Stroud, Glos. GL5 3TJ

    Meningitis Research Foundation
    24 hour helpline: 080 8800 3344 
    Website: www.meningitis.org

    Brookes Medical Centre
    Tel: 01865 483193

    St. Bartholomew's Medical Centre 
    Tel: (01865) 242334 
    Emergencies out of hours and at weekends: call 111

    Harcourt Hill Campus
    Dr Williamson (01865) 429993

    Wheatley Campus
    Dr Lynda Ware (01865) 872448

    General websites

    Health Protection Agency 
    Comprehensive site covering all aspects of infectious diseases at home and abroad. Please access before travelling.