What is Meningitis?

What is meningitis and how can you protect your children? Dr Ranj Singh takes a closer look.

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection of the protective layers surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Sometimes this infection gets into the bloodstream, and this is called sepsis or septicaemia. These conditions are often collectively referred to as ‘meningitis’, but it is possible to have either or both.

Meningitis can affect anyone, but is most commonly seen in babies, children, teenagers and young adults. There are two main types: viral and bacterial, depending on the type of germ causing them. Viral meningitis can make you very unwell, but is less serious than bacterial, which could be lethal. This must be treated as quickly as possible, otherwise it can cause permanent damage or even death.

Symptoms of meningitis vary according to the age of the individual, the type of meningitis and where the infection is. They include things like fever, vomiting, lethargy, headache, stiff neck and painful reaction to bright lights. These signs are all interchangeable: some may appear and others not at all. One of the most well-known is a rash that does not fade when you press it, but this is only present when the infection is in the bloodstream. So you can have meningitis without the classic rash.

Antibiotics are the main form of treatment and they need to be administered as soon as possible. So if you suspect your child or infant may have meningitis, trust your instincts and contact NHS 999 or go to the nearest A&E. There are a number of vaccinations that are aimed at protecting young children against various forms of meningitis. For details on these, talk to your doctor or check the NHS Choices website.

Voice: Dr Ranj Singh