Meningitis: causes, symptoms and treatment
Outbreaks are scary business so get your facts to stay safe
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the brain lining and spinal cord and septicaemia is poisoning of the blood. Meningitis can cause septicaemia. There are a few different types of meningitis: viral, bacterial and fungal. The two most common types are bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis. Of the two, bacterial meningitis is the most severe type. For unknown reasons, meningitis seems to be more common in young people.
There are vaccines for certain types of meningitis, but not all types. The Meningococcal C vaccine is recommended for all children and young people under the age of 23 and is available from G.P's and student health centres. The actual vaccine is free, but you may have to pay a consultation fee if you receive it at your G.P.’s.
Even with this vaccine, you still have to be alert for signs of meningitis, as the vaccine does not cover the most common strain of meningitis: Meningococcal B. Bacterial meningitis is a very serious illness and if you suspect you have it, you need to go to the A & E immediately. The earlier treatment is started, the more positive the outcome is likely to be.
Symptoms of meningitis
As with all illnesses, symptoms vary from person to person, but these are the signs to look out for:
- A severe headache
- Severe neck stiffness – inability to move the neck as you would normally. Your neck may feel painful, like it’s stuck and won’t move. You won’t be able to touch your chin to your chest.
- Muscle aches and pains
- Aversion to light – lights may seem very bright to you and be painful to look at.
- Tiredness and sleepiness despite having had adequate sleep.
- A rash – The bacterial meningitis rash does not fade if you press on it. You may have seen ads on the telly asking you to check your rash with a glass. This is because a normal rash briefly disappears when you press something on it, whereas a rash caused by bacterial menengitis does not. Check your body thoroughly for the rash, including your eyelids and the soles of your feet.
What to do if you think you have meningitis
If you have any of these symptoms (particularly the headaches, light aversion and rash that does not fade), you need to get to a hospital as soon as possible. In the hospital, doctors will listen to your symptoms and take some bloods if you are well enough. You may also have a spinal tap or lumbar puncture procedure, where the doctor collects some fluid from your spinal cord. If left untreated, meningitis may cause low blood pressure, fast pulse, seizures, septicaemia (blood poisoning) and brain damage.
Treatment for meningitis
Treatment depends on the type of meningitis. Bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics and steroids. Viral meningitis seems to be less dangerous and often responds well to treatment that simply eases the symptoms. This is because viral meningitis does not seem to be as dangerous as bacterial meningitis. If you have been in close contact with a person with bacterial meningitis (such as a boyfriend/girlfriend) or family member, you may be prescribed antibiotics also.
Causes of meningitis
Meningitis is quite a rare condition, but as with everything in life, prevention is better than cure. So, make sure you avail of the meningitis vaccine schemes offered to you. There is however no vaccine against the Group B meningococcal bacteria, which is the most common cause of meningitis.