Meningitis can strike quickly and kill within hours – its impact can last a lifetime.


Babies and children are the most at risk, with around half of all cases occurring in the under 5s. Risk increases again for teenagers and young adults.

Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to meningitis as they cannot easily fight infection because their immune system is not yet fully developed.

Babies and toddlers can’t tell you how they are feeling, so it is easy to miss vital signs and symptoms. More than three babies, toddlers or young children will be taken ill with meningitis every day.

There are many different causes of meningitis, but the two most common organisms are viruses and bacteria.

Viral meningitis can make people very unwell but is rarely life-threatening. Most people make a good recovery, but sufferers can be left with after effects such as headaches, tiredness and memory loss. For some patients, these problems can be long-term.

Bacterial meningitis can kill, so urgent medical attention is essential. Some bacteria that cause meningitis can also cause septicaemia (blood poisoning). Most people do recover, but 10% will die and a further 15% will be left with debilitating after effects such as; deafness, brain damage, epilepsy, learning difficulties and behavioural problems. Septicaemia can result in organ failure, skin and tissue damage and loss of digits or limbs.

Vaccines are the only way to prevent meningitis, but despite immunisations being available to protect against some types of meningitis, there are still thousands of cases in the UK every year.

Until there are vaccines to cover all types, the best way to protect your child is to know the signs and symptoms; trust your instincts and get medical help immediately.

Vaccines available to prevent meningitis

Vaccines have dramatically reduced the number of meningitis cases each year in the UK. Many of these are part of the Childhood Immunisation Programme and are offered to all babies from 2 months of age.  Hib, Men C, and pneumococcal vaccines protect against different types of bacterial meningitis. Measles and mumps viruses can cause viral meningitis; MMR vaccine will offer protection against infection by these organisms.

Additionally, Men C vaccine is also available to anyone under 25 who has not already received it, and all first year university students.

Additional vaccines are available for travel, or for people categorised as at risk. To ensure your child is fully vaccinated check with your GP surgery.

Men B (meningococcal group b disease) is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK. There is no routine vaccine available to prevent this type of meningitis, however a Men B vaccine is available privately and you can consult your GP surgery for details.

The Men B vaccine is being considered for future use in the Childhood Immunisation Programme, but at Meningitis Now we know that time lost is lives lost and we are campaigning for the vaccine to be freely available for all now. If you would like to get involved you can join our Beat it Now campaign.

Identifying the symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia, and acting quickly can save lives. Make sure you know what to do.

For symptoms information or to request a symptoms card call our free phone helpline, available 24-hours a day – 0808 80 10 388. Alternatively you can log on to Meningitis Now and see our symptom checker.

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