As a first-year student, I first became aware of meningitis when I was contacted by my GP and university to get the MenACWY vaccine. This was followed by a talk in fresher’s week about how students were one of the most at risk groups but after this, fortunately, meningitis didn’t affect my life.
This summer I have done a two-week work experience at Meningitis Now and have learnt a lot about the disease and the wonderful work the charity does to support those affected and their families. Despite being such a dangerous and in some instances a fatal disease, there are lots of misconceptions about meningitis and its effects.
Here are some myths I believed about the disease before coming to meningitis now and the truth behind them.
1. "It’s not meningitis if there’s not a rash"
The rash is probably one of the most well-known symptoms and if it does not fade under pressure then this can be a sign of meningitis but it’s not the only sign and unlike what most people think (me included) it does not appear in every case so don’t wait for a rash before seeking medical help. The symptoms to look out for are fever with cold hands and feet, drowsiness, vomiting, confusion, severe headache with a stiff neck and dislike of bright lights. The symptoms can appear in any order and some may not appear at all, it’s really important not to wait for any one symptom before seeking help.
2. "There’s only one type of meningitis"
Meningitis is always talked about as just 'meningitis' and I never realised that it could be viral or bacterial. Both strains of the disease have similar early signs. Viral is a more common strain of the disease and is rarely life threatening but it is still serious and can cause many after-effects including headaches, dizziness, hearing loss and sight problems. Lots of different bacteria can cause bacterial meningitis, it is rarer but if not treated promptly can be life threatening.
3. "Everyone who has meningitis dies"
While bacterial meningitis can be a fatal disease it’s not true that everyone who has the disease dies, there are many other after-effects of meningitis which can be severe. In some cases brain damage can be an after-effect and can result in complications including epilepsy, cerebral palsy and sometimes behavioural changes. Temporary or permanent hearing loss and sight problems are also after-effects of the disease. There are also many after-effects of septicaemia (blood-poisoning), including tissue damage, organ failure and limb loss.
Being aware of the early signs and symptoms is really important for students and young people, and can save lives. You now know more about meningitis than the average person and can make a real difference by talking to everyone you know about the signs and symptoms and why they should be vaccinated for free by their GP!