Meningitis can affect anyone, but it's most common in babies, young children, teenagers and young adults.

It’s an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (meninges), reports the NHS.

If it’s not treated quickly, meningitis can be “very serious” and around 1 in 10 cases of bacterial meningitis is “fatal”.

It can also cause “life-threatening” sepsis and result in permanent damage to the brain or nerves.

How do you catch bacterial meningitis?

There are several vaccinations available that offer some protection against certain causes of meningitis.

These include:

  • MenB vaccine – offered to babies aged 8 weeks, followed by a second dose at 16 weeks and a booster at 1 year
  • 6-in-1 vaccine – offered to babies at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age
  • pneumococcal vaccine – 2 doses offered to babies at 12 weeks and 1 year, and a single dose offered to adults aged 65 or over
  • Hib/MenC vaccine – offered to babies at 1 year of age
  • MMR vaccine – offered to babies at 1 year and a second dose at 3 years and 4 months
  • MenACWY vaccine – offered to teenagers, sixth formers and "fresher" students going to university for the first time

The NHS states that meningitis is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection - bacterial meningitis is “rarer but more serious than viral meningitis.”

Craven Herald: Is your child due a meningitis vaccine soon?Is your child due a meningitis vaccine soon? (Image: Getty)

Infections that cause meningitis can be spread through:

  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • kissing

“Meningitis is usually caught from people who carry these viruses or bacteria in their nose or throat but are not ill themselves,” explains the NHS.

“It can also be caught from someone with meningitis, but this is less common.”

What symptom comes first with meningitis?

Symptoms can appear in any order and you don’t always get all the symptoms, according to the health experts.

However, some symptoms can develop suddenly and include:

  • a high temperature (fever)
  • being sick
  • a headache
  • a rash that does not fade when a glass is rolled over it (but a rash will not always develop)
  • a stiff neck
  • a dislike of bright lights
  • drowsiness or unresponsiveness
  • seizures (fits)

Ambulance response categories explained 


Can a person recover from meningitis?

Tests are carried out to determine if you have bacterial or viral meningitis – bacterial meningitis usually needs to be treated in hospital for at least a week with either antibiotics, fluids given directly into a vein or oxygen through a face mask.

Meanwhile, viral meningitis tends to get better on its own within seven to 10 days and can often be treated at home.

The NHS adds: “Most people with bacterial meningitis who are treated quickly will also make a full recovery, although some are left with serious long-term problems.”

These can include:

  • hearing loss or vision loss, which may be partial or total
  • problems with memory and concentration
  • recurrent seizures (epilepsy)
  • co-ordination, movement and balance problems
  • loss of limbs – amputation of affected limbs is sometimes necessary

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“Call 999 for an ambulance or go to your nearest A&E immediately if you think you or someone you look after could have meningitis or sepsis,” urges the NHS.

“Trust your instincts and do not wait for all the symptoms to appear or until a rash develops. Someone with meningitis or sepsis can get a lot worse very quickly.”

You should call NHS 111 for advice if you're not sure if it's anything serious or you think you may have been exposed to someone with meningitis.