Meningitis can turn your world upside down. It can strike quickly and leave people with life-changing disabilities. With this disease, even a matter of minutes can make a difference.

Scroll down to learn more about meningitis and how to take steps to protect your family

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is the inflammation of the protective lining around the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can strike suddenly - sometimes without warning. It can be very serious if not treated quickly, with the potential to cause life-threatening blood poisoning (septicaemia), permanent damage to the brain or nerves, loss of limbs and in some cases, death.

Meningitis can be caused by the entry of bacteria or viruses into the body. 1 in 10 people carry these bacteria in their nose or throat1.

Infection can be spread by:

Coughing

Sneezing

Kissing

Sharing Utensils

Meningitis can also cause severe blood poisoning called meningococcal septicaemia and result in lifelong damage. 1 in 3 bacterial meningitis survivors may be left with long-term physical and cognitive disabilities like brain damage, hearing and sight loss2.

Types of Meningococcal Meningitis

There are several types of meningococcal bacteria with the main groups being A, B, C, W, X and Y1.

There are vaccines available to protect against some types but there is no single vaccine to protect against all.

Meningitis in Ireland

In Ireland, meningococcal Group B and C cause the majority of disease3.

Any of the meningococcal bacteria types can cause fatal disease.

Bacterial Meningitis

Many different bacteria can cause meningitis

No single vaccine protects against all causes of bacterial meningitis

Meningococcal bacteria are the most common cause of meningitis in Ireland

Needs urgent treatment as it can be deadly and life-changing

Can lead to septicaemia (blood poisoning)

Main disease-causing groups of meningococcal bacteria:
A, B, C, W, X, Y

Meningitis is a treatable disease and most people who contract it will survive, but in Ireland in 2017, the disease was fatal for 1 in 11 3.

Who is at Risk?

Babies & Toddlers

While meningococcal meningitis can infect anyone – babies and children under five are the most at risk3.

Why

Why are babies, toddlers and children at higher risk?
Their immune system (which helps them fight infection) is less developed than older age groups

Teenagers & young people

Teenagers and young people are the second most at risk ages for contracting meningococcal meningitis3.

Why

Why are teenagers and young adults at risk?
They are more likely to have meningococcal bacteria living in the back of their nose and throat. This can be spread through close contact with other teens and young adults with no immunity.

1 IN 4 TEENAGERS AGED 15-19 YEARS OLD ARE MENINGOCOCCAL BACTERIA CARRIERS8.

Can you identify the Early Symptoms?

Symptoms of meningococcal disease can be difficult to recognise, and can easily be mistaken for a common cold or virus6. Can you identify the early symptoms? Select all that apply from the list of meningitis symptoms.

  • Fever

  • Dislike of bright lights

  • Vomiting

  • Seizures

  • Stiff neck

  • Headache

  • Rapid breathing

  • Confused

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Red blotchy rash

  • Muscle pain

  • Sleepy/Drowsy

Additional symptoms to look out for in babies

In the early stages, it can be very difficult to tell the signs of meningitis apart from milder diseases and conditions. The symptoms above can appear in any order and some may not appear at all. While the early symptoms are similar for all age groups, there are some additional symptoms to look out for in babies.

Unusual Crying

Refusing Feeding

Drowsy, floppy

Tense/bulging
fontanelle (soft spot)

Protect Your Family

You can reduce the risk of infection in the following ways.

Wash Hands

Washing hands carefully and regularly.

Avoid Sharing

Avoid sharing drinks, food, straws, eating utensils and cosmetics with anyone else.

Cover Mouth and Nose

Cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

Vaccinations

You can reduce the risk of getting meningitis by ensuring all vaccinations are up to date.

Find out if your family is covered

Vaccines help to prevent meningitis, however, there is no single vaccine to protect against all types or strains. The vaccination schedule in Ireland includes vaccines that help protect against meningitis-causing diseases. Find out if your family is covered below.

My child was born:

Children born before 1st Oct 2016

The vaccination schedule in Ireland includes vaccines that help protect against meningitis-causing diseases. If your child was born before October 2016 they will receive the following vaccinations that help to protect against meningitis:

Children born before the 1st of October 2016

  • Pneumococcal
  • MenC
  • Hib/MenC
  • MMR
  • 6-in-1 combination vaccine

If your child was born after October 2016 they will receive the following vaccinations that help to protect against meningitis:

Children born after the 1st of October 2016.

  • Pneumococcal
  • MenB
  • Hib/MenC
  • MenC
  • MMR
  • 6-in-1 combination vaccine

To check if your child is as well protected as possible against vaccine-preventable meningitis-causing diseases, please consult your GP or practice nurse.

Children born after the 1st of October 2016

The vaccination schedule in Ireland includes vaccines that help protect against meningitis-causing diseases. If your child was born after October 2016 they will receive the following vaccinations that help to protect against meningitis:

Children born after the 1st of October 2016

  • MenB
  • Pneumococcal
  • MenC
  • Hib/MenC
  • MMR
  • 6-in-1 combination vaccine

To check if your child is as well protected as possible against vaccine-preventable meningitis-causing diseases, please consult your GP or practice nurse.

Teenagers and adults

Teenagers and adults aren’t covered by Meningitis B vaccination.

Meningitis ACWY was introduced as a routine vaccine in Aug 2015. From September 2015, the ACWY vaccine is offered to teenagers in school when they are around 14 yrs old.

For people not eligible for an NHS vaccination, advice and vaccination is available privately from many pharmacies, private clinics and hospitals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Meningitis means inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. There are many different causes of meningitis but the most common causes are bacteria and viruses. Meningitis can be particularly dangerous for babies because they have an immature immune system which can be quickly overwhelmed by this infection.

For more information take a look at the What is meningitis section

Teenagers start to mix together more as they develop into young adults which makes them more likely to share and spread their germs and bugs. Many teenagers harmlessly carry the bacteria that causes meningitis in the back of their nose and throat. However this bacteria can be passed on easily to others who may be more susceptible. These teenagers may then develop bacterial meningitis.

For more information take a look at the Who is at risk section

Meningitis can be caused by lots of different things but bacterial and viral infections are the most common causes. If a person has no natural immunity to the types of bacteria that cause meningitis, they can catch it from someone who may be carrying bacteria harmlessly in their nose and throat. Bacterial meningitis is normally transmitted person-to-person, e.g. through close contact like sneezing, coughing, kissing or sharing drinks and utensils.

For more information take a look at the What is meningitis section

Signs and symptoms can be different depending on a person’s age – for example symptoms can be different in babies versus teenagers.

Early signs are similar across all age groups and include: fever, fever with cold hands and feet, vomiting, muscle pain and headache.

Later symptoms in babies and toddlers (under 5 years) include: unusual crying, rapid breathing or grunting, tense or bulging fontanelle (soft spot), unusual cry, moaning, fretful, dislike of being handled, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights, convulsions/seizures, pale blotchy skin, spots or a rash that does not fade under pressure (this can be a sign of septicaemia), refusing food, drowsy, floppy, unresponsive.

Later symptoms in children, teenagers and young adults include: dislike of bright lights, convulsions/seizures, drowsy, difficult to wake, stiff neck, confusion and irritability, pale blotchy skin, spots or a rash that does not fade under pressure (this can be a sign of septicaemia).

For more information take a look at the Signs and symptoms section

Do not wait for a rash that does not fade under pressure if someone is displaying other signs and symptoms of meningitis. This type of rash can be a sign of septicaemia (blood poisoning), which normally happens once bacterial meningitis has taken hold.

Seek help immediately if this type of rash appears.

If you see a rash, do the glass test. Press the side of a clear drinking glass firmly onto the rash, spots or bruises. If it is septicaemia, they will not fade.

For more information take a look at the Signs and symptoms section

Treatment will depend on the type of meningitis a person has. For example, if it is caused by bacteria this will be urgently treated in hospital with intravenous (into a vein) antibiotics. If a person has viral meningitis, antibiotics won’t be effective and there is no specific treatment. Patients will need to be kept hydrated, given painkillers and allowed to rest to help them recover.

There is no single vaccine that protects against meningitis. The HSE provides a schedule of vaccines for different diseases and these are given to babies, older children and adults. Some of these vaccines help protect against certain types of meningitis bacteria and others against diseases that can cause meningitis. However, the schedule does change over time as different vaccines become available. Plus, not all age groups are included when different vaccines come on to the schedule and they may be available privately. To make sure you and your family have received all age-appropriate vaccines available, please check with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

For more information take a look at the Protect your family section

Currently all students in First year of second level schools are offered a booster dose of the Meningococcal C (MenC) vaccine but this doesn’t provide protection against all types of meningococcal meningitis. Other vaccines against meningitis-causing diseases are available and you should check with your doctor or pharmacist.

For more information take a look at the Protect your family section

The length of protection is different depending on the vaccine given. The amount of protection each vaccine can provide has been studied for up to a certain amount of time and protection has been proven up to this timescale. Vaccines are continuously studied and monitored for their effectiveness – speak to your doctor if you would like more information.

Your doctor and nurse will be able to help you with any questions you have about vaccinations. You can also find more information about meningitis, vaccines for different age groups and the National Immunisation Programme on the HSE website.

Find out More Information

Now you are aware of the signs and symptoms, you can speak to your GP, nurse or pharmacist to discuss how to manage the risk of contracting meningitis.

Disease awareness information provided by GSK Ireland. This website does not constitute personal medical advice, please speak to your GP, nurse or pharmacist to discuss how to manage the risk from meningitis.

To report an adverse event, contact us on 1800 244 255 or email us at Ireland.drugsurveillance@gsk.com

References
  1. Health Protection Surveillance Centre. Bacterial Meningitis Frequently Asked Questions. Available at: http://www.hpsc.ie. Last accessed: April 2019.
  2. Meningitis Now. How Do You Catch Meningitis. Available at: https://www.meningitisnow.org. Last accessed: April 2019.
  3. Health Protection Surveillance Centre. Meningococcal Disease Annual Report 2017. Available at: http://www.hpsc.ie Last accessed: April 2019.
  4. GSK, Tackle Meningitis Survey, April 2017
  5. GSK KnowMeningitis Survey, April 2019
  6. Meningitis Research Foundation. Meningitis symptoms. Available at: https://www.meningitis.org/meningitis/check-symptoms. Last accessed: April 2019.
  7. Oxford Vaccine Group. Meningococcal disease. Available at: http://vk.ovg.ox.ac.uk/meningococcal-disease. Last accessed: April 2019
  8. Meningitis Research Foundation. Are you at risk? Available at: https://www.meningitis.org/meningitis/are-you-at-risk. Last accessed: April 2019.
  9. Meningitis Now. Meningitis in children and young people. Available at: https://www.meningitisnow.org. Last accessed: April 2019.