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Written on 22nd May 2020 by Susan Brown

Whilst watching out for meningitis might be the last thing on people’s minds during the coronavirus pandemic, Meningitis Now believe it is more important than ever to stay alert and protect ourselves and our families from this life-threatening disease.  

The charity has highlighted the risk of future meningitis infections which may follow the current drop in numbers of parents taking their children for vaccinations. They warn of the potential for ‘tragedy on top of existing worries about coronavirus’ and the additional pressure that a new wave of meningitis cases would put on the NHS at this critical time.

Meningitis kills. Many of those who survive will suffer a lifetime of disability, with impairments ranging from severe brain injury and amputation to ‘hidden’ problems with memory and concentration or deafness. The disease strikes quickly, across all age groups, and amongst even the healthiest of people. Even now, we must stay alert because, although some have greater risks than others, everyone is at risk.

Meningitis in babies

Babies are at increased risk of meningitis in the newborn (neonatal) first few days of live and in infancy and childhood.

A newborn baby may be at risk of neonatal meningitis from group B streptococcus or GBS if:

  • born prematurely before 37 weeks of pregnancy
  • their mother had a high temperature (a sign of infection) during childbirth
  • they were born more than 18 hours after their mother’s membranes (waters) broke
  • their mother’s previous child had group B strep (GBS) infection

Another common cause of meningitis in newborn babies is from exposure to E coli infection. 

Delay in diagnosis and treatment of infection in a newborn baby can be life-threatening to the baby. It can also lead to permanent disability from:

  • cerebral palsy
  • meningitis
  • septicaemia
  • pneumonia
  • blindness
  • deafness
  • serious learning disability

Meningitis in students

Students and young adults are at increased risk of meningitis when they live away from home for the first time, often in close quarters with other students. When compared to the general population, greater numbers of students have been found to carry meningococcal bacteria in their throats. There are a number of factors which make students more prone to meningitis. These include:

  • intimacy
  • new exposure to other students from different environments
  • living in close quarters with others
  • alcohol
  • lack of self-care

Being away from home and parental supervision, young students are also less likely to realise that they are seriously ill. This puts them at higher risk, not only of contracting the disease, but also of their condition going unnoticed. Early signs of meningitis may be mistaken for freshers’ flu or a severe hangover. Flatmates or friends may not recognise lethargy, drowsiness, irritability or other signs of illness as a cause for concern requiring urgent medical attention in the same way that a parent would.

Meningitis in adults

Adults of any age can suffer from meningitis infection. An adult’s risk increases as they get older. Those with health problems affecting their immune system which lower their body’s ability to fight infection are particularly at risk.

What are the symptoms and signs of meningitis?

It is important to understand that meningitis presents in different ways. Each person’s early symptoms and signs will be different. Even well-known  ‘classic’ signs (such as the rash which doesn’t fade under pressure when a glass is pressed firmly against the skin)  may not appear.

The list below includes many of the warning signs but these may appear in any order and some may not appear at all. If you suspect meningitis, don’t waste valuable time waiting for other symptoms and signs to appear. Any delay in treatment severely reduces the likelihood of recovery. Call for medical help straight away.

Signs and symptoms of meningitis may include:

  • fever (high temperature)
  • headache
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • muscle pain
  • stomach cramps
  • fever with cold hands and feet
  • drowsiness or unable to wake
  • confusion and irritability
  • pale blotchy skin or a rash
  • neck stiffness
  • dislike of bright light (photophobia)
  • convulsions (fits or seizures)

In addition to the above, babies may show any of the following:

  • refusing food and vomiting
  • dislike of being handled
  • drowsy, floppy or unresponsive
  • breathing rapidly or grunting
  • unusual cry or moaning
  • tense, bulging soft spot (fontanelle)

Vaccinations/immunisations for meningitis

Whilst current vaccinations still do not cover all types of meningitis, vaccinations are available for many of the most common causes of meningitis infection. This means that there is a lot that you can do to protect yourself and your family from many types of meningitis and reduce your risk of severe injury from this life-threatening disease.

Currently available vaccinations which protect against meningitis include:

  • MenB – this vaccine is now offered to babies at two, four and 12 months. MenB is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK. Early indications suggest that the recent introduction of the MenB vaccine, free on the NHS, has been very successful in preventing cases of meningitis B.
  • Hib – this vaccine for haemophilus influenzae type B (previously one of the most common causes of bacterial meningitis in children) is given to babies at two, three and four months. It is usually given together with vaccinations against diptheria, tetanus, polio, pertussis and hepatitis B.
  • MenC – this is offered in combination with the Hib vaccine to infants at 12-13 months.
  • MenACWY - covering four of the major types of meningitis, this vaccine is offered in schools to children around 14 years of age and via a catch up programme for teenagers and new university entrants up to the age of 25.
  • PCV - is a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine which is offered to babies at 12 weeks and 12-13 months. It is also available to adults and children who may be at increased risk of pneumococcal disease from other health conditions. Pneumococcal bacteria have over 90 strains, some of which can cause meningitis and septicaemia. The PCV vaccine immunises against 13 strains.

Meningitis is a medical emergency – delay is devastating

Signs of meningitis infection must always be taken seriously as any delay in treatment can lead to death or devasting injury. Where someone suffers permanent injury from meningitis as a result of delays in medical diagnosis, admission to hospital or antibiotic treatment, they may be entitled to claim substantial compensation.

Boyes Turner’s clinical negligence team have helped many clients with brain injury, amputation and other disability from meningitis rebuild their lives by making a meningitis negligence claim. Our clients’ compensation helps pay for care, adapted accommodation, prosthetics, therapies and ongoing medical costs, specialist education, rehabilitation and equipment whilst easing the financial hardship that  is often caused by severe disability.

If you or your child have been disabled by negligent delays in diagnosis and treatment of meningitis and you would like to find out more about making a claim, contact us by email at