Getting to Grips With Meningitis

To safeguard against it, it is important to understand meningitis and the forms it can take. Read on for helpful advice in this Q&A.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is a serious infection. It occurs when the lining around the brain and spinal cord becomes inflamed. The infection is mostly caused either by bacteria or a virus. Bacterial meningitis can lead to brain damage, deafness, blindness, epilepsy, blood poisoning (septicaemia) and even death. The bacteria can spread through prolonged close contact.

What is the difference between the different ‘types’ of meningitis?

Meningitis can be grouped into two main groups: viral and bacterial. Viral meningitis is the most common type and patients tend to recover well. Bacterial meningitis, while rare can be extremely dangerous. Meningococcal bacteria are the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK, and can cause meningitis and septicaemia. There are five main groups including A,B,C,W &Y and meningococcal group B (Men B) is the most common, accounting for 55 percent of reported cases of meningococcal meningitis.

Is meningitis contagious?

It is an infectious disease and the bacteria can spread to people through prolonged close contact—for example within families—probably by coughing, sneezing or kissing.

What are the symptoms to look out for with meningitis?

Every case is different—while there are lots of symptoms, they don’t always appear in every person, and there’s no specific order.

• Severe headache

• Sensitivity to bright lights

• Neck stiffness

• Nausea and vomiting

• Confusion and drowsiness

• Loss of consciousness

• Convulsions/seizures

• Pale, blotchy skin. Spots/ rash

It is important to know that not everyone gets a rash, so don’t wait for this before seeking urgent medical attention.

The ‘glass test’

If a rash doesn’t fade under pressure it’s a sign of blood poisoning caused by meningitis (meningococcal septicaemia) and you should get medical advice right away.*

To tell whether or not this rash is an indicator of meningitis, you should do the glass test:

  • Press the side of a clear glass firmly against the skin
  • Spots/rash may fade at first
  • Keep checking
  • Fever with spots/rash that do not fade under pressure is a medical emergency
  • Do not wait for a rash. If someone is ill and getting worse, get medical help immediately

If you are in any doubt seek medical advice.

What is the potential impact of meningitis?

Meningitis can strike quickly, but its impact can last a lifetime. We know that meningitis and septicaemia can turn your world upside down, leaving many victims with after-effects.

How can meningitis be prevented?

The good news is that vaccinations exist to protect against some types of meningitis and septicaemia. However, there is no vaccination to protect against all types of meningitis, so remaining vigilant is vital.

Vaccinations offer some protection against certain strains of meningitis. These include the:

  • Meningitis B vaccination—offered to babies aged eight weeks, followed by a second dose at 16 weeks, and a booster at one year
  • Six-in-one vaccination—offered to babies at eight, 12 and 16 weeks of age
  • Pneumococcal vaccine—offered to babies at eight weeks, 16 weeks and one year old
  • Hib/MenC vaccination—offered to babies at one year of age
  • MMR vaccination—offered to babies at one year and a second dose at three years and four months
  • Meningitis ACWY vaccination—offered to teenagers, sixth formers and “fresher” students going to university for the first time.

Who is most at risk?

Meningitis can affect all ages, but it’s more common in babies and young children. The next most vulnerable group is teenagers and young adults because of increased social mixing at these ages, leading to increased spreading of the bacteria. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms listed above as meningitis and septicaemia can strike at any age, with 21 percent of cases of meningococcal disease due to Men B reported between January and March 2017 occurring in those aged 45 and over[ii].

Boots fully supports the NHS decision to vaccinate the most vulnerable age groups against meningitis. They also recognise that some people may want to consider vaccination for themselves or their children, but they’re outside the age range for the NHS programme. For this reason, they provide a private Meningitis B Vaccination Service in over 350 Boots Pharmacies for adults and children aged two and over.

For more information on Meningitis visit:

For more information and current prices for the private Meningitis B vaccination service, go to

(Available in selected Boots stores. Subject to availability. Eligibility criteria and charges apply)


Boots donates £1 for every person vaccinated to Meningitis Now

One year data (July 2015 – June 2016) England only. Source: PHE (published October 2016)

[ii] PHE 2017 (England data) January – March 2017

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