Meningitis is an inflammation of the tissues that surround the brain.
Each year about 4000 people in Britain get the disease - most are children under the age of five and teenagers between 14 and 20 years old.
Meningitis has similar symptoms to flu, but it can be life threatening. Bacteria that cause meningitis also cause blood poisoning (septicaemia) which kills one in five.
Spotting the symptoms early is very important.
For children and adults:
- severe headache
- stiff neck
- dislike of bright light
- being sick
- very high temperature
- a rash which does not fade if pressed with a glass
- not wanting to be picked up
- a high-pitched moaning cry
- staring expression
- blotchy complexion
- generally unwell
There are two types of meningitis.
One is caused by a virus and is not usually life-threatening. The other is caused by bacteria and is far more serious.
One in ten people with bacterial meningitis will die and one in seven are left with permanent brain damage.
The germs that cause meningitis are very common and live naturally in the throats of many of us. People fall ill with meningitis if the germs overcome their body's natural defences.
If a doctor suspects meningitis, an antibiotic, like penicillin, is given immediately.
Antibiotics will only treat the more serious bacterial meningitis and are useless to fight the viral form.
The bacteria damage tiny blood vessels and blood leaks out under the skin, causing the unusual rash. The bacteria can also cause blood poisoning (septicaemia).
Septicaemia is a medical emergency and must be treated with antibiotics immediately. It kills 1 in 5 people who suffer from it.
For advice and information, go to The Meningitis trust website.