Why do I need to be aware of Meningitis?
Meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia (blood poisoning) are serious diseases that can strike rapidly with little warning and if left untreated could be fatal. Outbreaks of meningitis tend to occur where people live or work closely together, such as university, living in halls of residence, living in shared student accommodation.
What is meningitis?
Meningitis is an infection of the meninges (the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord). The infection can be caused by bacteria or a virus, and it leads to the meninges becoming inflamed. This can damage the nerves and brain.
How can I prevent meningitis?
There are a number of vaccines that can prevent most cases of viral and bacterial meningitis and include:
- MMR (protects against measles, mumps and rubella)
- Meningitis C
- DTa/IPV/Hib (protects against the Hib virus, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and polio)
In this country children should receive these vaccines as part of their childhood vaccination programme. Students are advised to have the vaccines before starting university. Your G.P. should be able to advise if you are up to date with the vaccines and arrange any vaccinations if required.
What should I do if I haven’t had the vaccines before starting university?
When you have registered with a local G.P (See How to register with a doctor) make an appointment with the Practice Nurse to discuss what vaccines you require.
Are there any other ways of preventing the spread of meningitis?
Meningitis can be spread through coughing, sneezing, kissing, poor hygiene or prolonged close personal contact. The following is good practice and the responsibility of all to help prevent the spread of meningitis and any other infection.
- Always carry tissues
- Avoid sharing personal possessions such as a toothbrush or cigarette
- Use a clean tissue to cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze
- Bin the tissue after one use
- Wash and dry your hands regularly using soap and hot water
- Encourage others to follow advice if poor personal hygiene or preventative measures are not demonstrated
- Learn to recognise the symptoms of meningitis and what to do if symptoms occur
- Avoid sharing eating/drinking utensils (unless washed and dried in-between use)
What is the difference between bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis?
It is only possible to distinguish between bacterial and viral meningitis by carrying out clinical tests; it is not possible to tell the difference from symptoms alone. All cases of suspected meningitis should be treated as an emergency because if caused by bacteria the meningitis could lead to septicaemia which can be fatal.
What are the symptoms of meningitis?
- Severe headache
- High temperature (fever) of 38 degrees or over
- Stiff neck
- Sensitivity to light
- A distinctive skin rash (not everyone will develop this)
Bacterial meningitis is the more serious form of the condition. The symptoms usually begin suddenly and rapidly get worse. Bacterial meningitis has a number of early warning signs that can occur earlier than the other symptoms and are:
- Pain in the muscles
- Unusually cold hands and feet, or shivering
- Pale or blotchy skin and blue lips
Viral meningitis does not usually lead to septicaemia. Most people with viral meningitis will have flu-like symptoms. In more severe cases of viral meningitis symptoms may also include:
- Muscle or joint pain
- Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
What should I do if meningitis is suspected?
Early treatment is essential - If you or a friend develops any of the above symptoms you should seek immediate medical help. Contact Freemen’s Common Health Centre, Tel: 0844 8151105 or the health centre you are registered with and tell them you suspect meningitis. When the Health Centre is closed go directly to the Urgent Care Centre or Accident and Emergency Department at the Leicester Royal Infirmary. If you require help with this and are living in University halls of residence contact your Sub warden or Residential Advisor who will have received specific training relating to meningitis.
Where can I find more information about meningitis?
What will the University do if a student or number of students contract meningitis?
The University works closely with the Health Protection Agency to prevent meningitis; in the event of a single or multiple cases the University will follow the University of Leicester Meningitis guidelines which are reviewed annually.