Dispel viral meningitis myths

27th April 2016

We’re calling for viral meningitis sufferers and their families to be “vocal about viral” to dispel myths and misconceptions that the viral form of the disease is not dangerous and always ‘mild’

Viral week blog
Our fourth Viral Meningitis Week, between 2 and 8 May, seeks to raise awareness to inform the public, health professionals and employers about the true impact of the disease and the long-term problems it can bring.

Expert opinion suggests up to 6,000 people each year across the UK suffer from viral meningitis, an infection that causes inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord. The majority of cases happen during the warmer months.

Our recent research, Meningitis and Me: The devastating and life-long impact of a brutal disease; (Meningitis Now and Alterline, November 2015) details the far-reaching impact of viral meningitis, often dismissed as a less serious disease than bacterial meningitis.

Turning lives upside down 

Debilitating after-effects from viral meningitis were just as likely to affect people’s day-to-day activities as were those from bacterial meningitis, turning their emotional and economic lives upside down and stealing their ability to learn, play and work.

After-effects include exhaustion, headaches, memory loss, depression, anxiety and hearing difficulties. Many sufferers had to take long periods off education or work, and struggle with the day-to-day tasks that most people take for granted. 

One research interviewee said: “I’ve had to let go of the person I was and I know I will never be the same again.

“I have lost my life, my career I studied so hard for at university, my friends, my social life, my health, my happiness, my freedom …”

Miss what you used to have

Another 22-year-old sufferer said: “Because it was viral meningitis everybody was like ‘oh, you’re fine aren’t you’ – but you don’t feel fine. You miss what you used to have; you miss being able to do whatever you wanted to do.”

Symptoms of viral meningitis can include a severe headache, a dislike of bright lights, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting and confusion. The disease can affect anyone of any age. We’re urging anyone who is concerned that they may have meningitis to seek urgent medical help.

Viral meningitis cannot be treated with antibiotics. Rehydration, painkillers and plenty of rest are the best remedy. Most people will make a full recovery but the process can be slow. The majority of sufferers no longer experience after-effects six months after their illness but for some the effects can be lifelong.

Rachel Robinson, our Director of Research and Support, said: “It’s vital that everybody understands how serious viral meningitis can be and that those suffering it, and their families and friends who are also affected, are not afraid to speak out about it and seek the support they need.”

Talk about the disease

“For our Viral Meningitis Week we’re calling on everyone to be Vocal About Viral – and help raise awareness by talking about the disease.”

The awareness week is being supported by celebrity and TV doctor Dr Ellie Cannon. She said: “Viral Meningitis Week is all about getting people to talk about the disease, its symptoms and its after-effects."

“The disease can affect anyone of any age, so learn the signs and symptoms, which can include a severe headache, a dislike of bright lights, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting and confusion. Carry a Meningitis Now symptoms card and help protect yourself and your family.”

We have free viral meningitis factsheets, providing more information for patients, health professionals and employers. They can be found on our website.

We’re also keen to promote our range of free services for sufferers of viral meningitis, including funding complementary therapies, counselling and peer support.

If you have been affected by viral meningitis or would like more information, contact the helpline on 0808 80 10 388 and helpline@meningitisnow.org

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