With the clocks going back on Sunday (31 October) and the prospect of colder winter weather the risk of meningitis increases. People spend more time indoors, closer to others; meaning germs are spread more easily.
And fighting common infections like colds and flu weakens people’s immune systems, leaving them more vulnerable to the disease.
Each year there are about 2,000 cases of bacterial meningitis in the UK, although incidence has fallen over the last 18 months during lockdown and social distancing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. What happens to case incidence in the future as restrictions ease remains unknown, but we do know that around 10% of those who contract bacterial meningitis will die from the disease and a third of those who survive will have lifelong after-effects, such as brain damage, loss of hearing and sight and, where septicaemia has occurred, loss of limbs and scarring.
It’s a disease which can kill in hours, so knowledge of the symptoms, vigilance and quick action are all vital.
Dr Tom Nutt, our chief executive, said: “Babies and children under 5 are most at risk of meningitis, with over half of all cases occurring in this age group.
“But the disease can affect anyone, of any age, at any time. Even those who consider themselves ‘fit and healthy’ may be left fighting for their life in a matter of hours.”
Meningitis is a difficult disease to spot as many of its early symptoms can be similar to flu. These symptoms can include fever with cold hands and feet, vomiting, headache, stiff neck, dislike of bright light, joint or muscle pain, pale blotchy skin, drowsiness, confusion and, in babies, a dislike of being handled, an unusual cry, rapid breathing and bulging fontanelle.
Both adults and children may have a rash that does not fade under pressure, but our advice is not to wait for a rash to develop before seeking medical attention.
Symptoms can appear in any order and some may not appear at all.
Trust your instincts
Tom added: “We urge everyone to familiarise themselves with the symptoms, trust their instincts and get urgent medical help if concerned. Doing this could save yours or a loved one’s life.”
Without vaccines for all strains of meningitis, knowing the symptoms is the best form of defence.
Check out signs and symptoms information and look after yourselves this winter.