What is meningitis? How did it originate?
Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. It is a serious disease that can lead to blood poisoning (septicaemia) and kill rapidly within a few hours, and leave survivors with severe disabilities. It was identified in the late 19th century and the first vaccines were developed in the 20th century.
What are the symptoms of meningitis?
Symptoms develop quickly and can resemble those of flu, or a hangover. They include fever, headache. Vomiting, a stiff neck, sensitivity to light, drowsiness, muscle and joint pain, and a rash which doesn’t go away when you press a glass against it.
In children and babies symptoms can akso include becoming unresponsive and floppy, or stiff with jerking movements, cold feet and hands, shivering, blotchy or pale skin, blue lips, irritability, refusing food, staring, and sleepiness.
Babies may also have a bulging soft spot on their head, and a high pitched cry.
If you suspect meningitis, call 999 immediately.
How is meningitis transmitted?
Meningitis is caused by viruses and bacteria which live in the noses and at the back of people’s throats. Bacterial meningitis is usually much more serious than viral meningitis. Both are spread via contact with saliva, mainly by sneezing, coughing, kissing and sharing utensils.
Teenagers are at a higher risk of contracting meningitis as they usually mix with many different people at a close proximity, especially when going to university.
What is the transmission seasonality?
Meningitis cases have been shown to peak during the winter months in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
What are the infected areas in the world?
The meningococcal bacteria which causes meningitis is found all over the world. Epidemics occur across the ‘meningitis belt’ which runs between Senegal and Ethiopia, and outbreaks have been recorded at the Hajj pilgrimages in Saudi Arabia as well as in Moscow, Russia.
What is a meningitis certificate?
A meningitis certificate is a document proving you have been vaccinated against meningitis. You must have a valid certificate proving you have been vaccinated against meningitis in order to travel to some places, such as Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimages.
Is meningitis curable?
Hospital treatment is usually required for cases of bacterial meningitis and less commonly for viral meningitis. Treatment may include injections of antibiotics, a drip for rehydration, and oxygen. Steroids may be used if there is swelling around the brain.
How to prevent meningitis?
The best way to prevent meningitis is to get vaccinated. There are a number of vaccines that can help protect you, some of which you may have already received over your lifetime.
These include the:
- meningitis B vaccine, given to babies aged 8 weeks. A second dose is given at 16 weeks, and a booster jab at 1 year old.
- 6-in-1 vaccine, given to babies at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age
- pneumococcal vaccine, given at 8 weeks, 16 weeks and 1 year old
- Hib/MenC vaccine, available to babies at 1 year of age
- MMR vaccine – offered to babies at 1 year, with a second dose at 3 years and 4 months
- meningitis ACWY vaccine – for teenagers, sixth form pupils and first year university students, and travellers to high risk areas.
Basic personal hygiene such as washing your hands often and covering a cough or sneeze can help prevent the spread of respiratory infections like meningitis. However, vaccination is most effective at lowering the risk of a life threatening infection.
How long before a trip do you have to get the meningitis vaccine?
You should get the MenACWY vaccine to protect you against meningitis at least 2 weeks before you travel.
Who should get the meningitis vaccine?
Travellers to high risk areas, including sub-Saharan Africa, Saudi Arabia and parts of Latin America should get vaccinated against meningitis with the MenACWY vaccine, especially if you plan to stay long, or live or work closely with local people or in a healthcare setting. You should get this even if you were vaccinated against meningitis C as a child.
If you are travelling to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj or pilgrimages, you must have a valid certificate showing you have been vaccinated.
Who should not get the meningitis vaccine?
You should avoid the MenACWY vaccine if you have are allergic the vaccine or any of its ingredients.
Check with your doctor or nurse before getting the MenACWY vaccine if you:
- bruise easily, or have a bleeding problem, such as haemophilia
- have a fever
- are pregnant or breastfeeding.
What is the minimum age requirement for the meningitis vaccine?
Infants can begin vaccinations against meningitis from 8 weeks old.
What is the effectiveness of the meningitis vaccine?
According to the NHS, the vaccine is highly effective.
What are the side effects of the meningitis vaccine?
The side effects of the MenACWY vaccine are generally mild and short, lasting no more than 24 hours. Redness, itching and hardening around the injection site is common, as is fever, headache, nausea and fatigue.
A small, painless lump may appear, but usually disappears in a few weeks.
How many jabs are needed?
Protection against meningitis A, C W and Y is given via a single injection in the upper arm.
How long does it last for?
The MenACWY vaccine given in the UK protects for 5 years.
When and where was the last outbreak of meningitis?
Outbreaks of bacterial meningitis affect millions people every year in the ‘African meningitis belt’ which stretches from Senegal to Ethiopia. The last large scale epidemic affected 80,000 people, mainly in Nigeria and Niger.