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Understanding
meningitis

Meningitis is an infection of the protective layers of the brain and spinal cord, known as the meninges.1 Meningitis is usually caused by a virus or bacteria.2 Several different viruses and bacteria can cause meningitis.2 Viral meningitis is the most common and least serious type of meningitis.2 Bacterial meningitis is rare but can be very serious if not treated.2

Meningococcal disease is a rare, serious bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, also known as meningococcus.1 The most frequent presentation of meningococcal disease is meningitis.3 Another presentation of meningococcal disease is septicaemia (blood poisoning).1,4 The terms meningococcal disease, meningococcal meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia are used interchangeably in this website.

Meningococcal disease

Different bacteria can cause meningitis and one of the most common are meningococcal bacteria.8

Twelve different types of meningococcal bacteria have been identified.1 Most cases of meningococcal meningitis are caused by one of six types: A, B, C, W, X and Y.1,5

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Common symptoms,
devastating disease

Even when meningococcal meningitis is diagnosed early and adequate treatment is started promptly, the consequences can be severe. Meningococcal meningitis can cause death in as little as 24 hours from the first symptoms.1,5

Example of how symptoms may progress in infants under one year old6

0-4

Hours

Fever
Irritable
Poor feeding
Nausea/vomiting
Coryza
Drowsy

5-8

Hours

Diarrhoea
Abnormal skin colour
Breathing difficulty
Leg pain
Floppy muscle tone
Rash

9-12

Hours

Cold hands and feet
General aches

13+

Hours

Photophobia
Unconsciousness
Bulging fontanelle
Neck stiffness
Seizure
Thirst

More information on symptoms typical in other age groups is included in the section below.

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Up to 1 to 10 patients die from meningococcal meningitis5

Survivors of meningococcal disease may face significant and permanent disabilities

It is estimated that 10%-20% of survivors are left with one or more permanent after effects5,9

Limb amputation icon

Limb amputation

Vision or hearing impairment icon

Vision or hearing impairment

Skin scarring icon

Skin scarring

Mental & motor skill impairment icon

Mental & motor skill impairment

Speech problems icon

Speech problems

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Rare disease,
common symptoms

As meningococcal meningitis can be life-threatening, it is important to learn how to identify the early symptoms that distinguish meningitis from other illnesses.

Early symptoms of meningococcal meningitis are very similar to those of flu and other illnesses, so meningococcal meningitis can be difficult to identify at first.6

One well known symptom of meningococcal meningitis is a blotchy rash that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it.7 This is known as haemorrhagic rash.6,7

In the early stages, there may not be a rash or the rash may fade on pressure.7 If you are concerned about yourself or someone else, you should seek medical help immediately.

Trust your instincts and do not wait until a rash develops

Symptoms of meningitis include:7

  • a high temperature
  • feeling and being sick
  • spots or a rash
  • a headache
  • aching muscles and joints
  • breathing quickly
  • cold hands and feet
  • pale, mottled skin
  • a stiff neck
  • confusion
  • a dislike of bright lights
  • drowsiness
  • fits (seizures)

Symptoms seen in infants and young children (0 to 4 years of age) include:7

  • a high temperature
  • feeling and being sick
  • spots or a rash
  • a headache
  • aching muscles and joints
  • breathing quickly
  • cold hands and feet
  • pale, mottled skin
  • a stiff neck
  • confusion
  • a dislike of bright lights
  • drowsiness
  • fits (seizures)

Babies may also:7

  • refuse feeds
  • be irritable
  • have a bulging soft spot on their head (fontanelle)
  • be floppy or unresponsive
  • have a high-pitched cry
  • have a stiff body

More

References

1. World Health Organization. Meningococcal meningitis factsheet. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/meningococcal-meningitis Last Accessed September 2019

2. National Health Service. Meningitis: causes. www.nhs.uk/conditions/meningitis/causes/ Last Accessed September 2019

3. Branco RG and Tasker RC. Meningococcal meningitis. Curr Treat Options Neurol 2010;12:464–74. doi: 10.1007/s11940-010-0086-5.

4. Parikh SR, et al. Epidemiology, clinical presentation, risk factors, intensive care admission and outcomes of invasive meningococcal disease in England, 2010-2015. Vaccine. 2018;36(26):3876–81. doi: 10.1016/j. vaccine.2018.02.038.

5. World Health Organization. Meningococcal vaccines: WHO position paper, November 2011. Weekly Epidemiological Report. 2011;47,(86):521–40.

6. Thompson MJ, et al. Clinical recognition of meningococcal disease in children and adolescents. Lancet. 2006;367(9508):397–403. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(06)67932-4.

7. National Health Service. Meningitis: symptoms. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/meningitis/symptoms/ Last Accessed September 2019

8. Oordt-Speets AM, et al. Global etiology of bacterial meningitis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS ONE. 2018;13(6):e0198772. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0198772.

9. Meningitis Research Foundation. After effects. https://www.meningitis.org/meningitis/after-effects. Last Accessed September 2019

Your Risk

Your risk of contracting meningococcal meningitis varies by your age, and by the country you live in or travel to.1 Follow these links to explore the risks for yourself and others.

Infants

For infants or young children under four years of age

Infants

Young teens

For young adolescents aged 13 or 14

Infants

Young adults

For young adults up to 24 years of age

Infants

Travelling Abroad

For those travelling to certain destinations

Infants

PP-VAC-GBR-1268 September 2019