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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 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.
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.
The bacteria live naturally in the back of the nose and throat. People of any age can carry these germs without becoming ill.
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.
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.
You can pick up a leaflet on meningitis from the Medical Centre on campus.