5 things you need to know about meningitis

Post sponsored by Pfizer

Growing up, my mum worried a fair bit about our health. It was hard to do anything vaguely physical without hearing a sharp intake of breath and my Mum muttering ‘you could break your neck!’

Conversations would often go something like this:

Me: ‘I’ve got a bit of a headache, so I might go to bed early.’

Mum: ‘Do you have a stiff neck? Do you have a rash??’

Me: ‘No, I don’t have meningitis. Hush.’

I think it probably got to the point where even if I HAD had a stiff neck I wouldn’t have said anything, just to avoid the fuss.

While no teenager particularly wants their parents fretting around them all the time, my Mum was right to take meningitis seriously – it’s a serious disease, and something that we should be educated about.

To help hammer the message home, here are five things you should definitely know about meningitis. Please share them with other people, especially young people, and please do share your own thoughts and experiences in the comments.

The more we talk about meningitis, hopefully the fewer people will have to experience it. Find out more about how to protect yourself here.

meningitis vaccine

1. Meningitis is a serious, life threatening disease

Meningitis is the swelling of the meninges, which is the lining around the brain and spinal cord. It is mainly caused by particular germs entering the body and it can be as little as 24 hours between the first symptoms and death. If you suspect that you or a loved one have meningitis then get medical help as quickly as possible.

2. Age can impact your risk of getting meningitis

Adolescents and young adults – roughly the 16-25 age group – are especially at risk from meningitis caused by meningococcal bacteria. These bacteria live harmlessly at the back of the nose and throat of people – around one in five adolescents and young adults are carriers. Common social behaviours adopted by this age group can promote spread of the bacteria so that’s why they seem to be at particular risk of this infectious disease.

Babies and toddlers are also at a higher risk because their immune systems are less developed.

3. You can potentially pass it on

The bacteria at least.

The bacteria that cause meningitis can spread from person to person through common social behaviours like going to crowded places, living in close quarters, kissing, drinking from the same glass and smoking. This is thought to be another reason why adolescents and young adults are more at risk.

4. Meningitis can have permanent, long term health implications

Just because you catch meningitis early enough to treat it, doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story. Meningitis can have both temporary and permanent side effects, which can effect people both physically and emotionally. About 10-20% of people who survive meningitis can be left with physical disabilities such as amputation.

5. You CAN do something to help protect yourself against meningitis

Because there are a lot of different bacteria and viruses that can cause meningitis, there are several different vaccinations too. Most of these are part of the standard programme of vaccinations that children receive when they are babies, but there is also a vaccination that can be given to teenagers or to young people starting college or university.

This vaccine, called the MenACWY vaccine, is given as a single injection and helps protect against four different strains of the meningococcal bacteria that cause meningitis. These bacteria are one of the most common causes of meningitis in young people.

It’s at this point that I ask Belle whether or not she has had this vaccination. She reminds me that she missed out on it at school and that I was meant to follow it up with the GP.


Good job I was writing this post really isn’t it?

For more information about how to protect yourself or your child from meningitis visit the #24YouHaveThePower website.

Image by Alexander Raths/shutterstock.




  1. 16 March, 2018 / 12:45 pm

    Great tips… One if mine was really ill once and i was worried ahe had meningitis. It’s good to know all the facts.

    • Jo Middleton
      20 March, 2018 / 11:32 am

      Definitely – always good to be prepared!

  2. 17 March, 2018 / 7:30 am

    My son had meningitis and septicaemia, a month before his 3rd birthday. We really thought that we were going to lose him, and the staff couldn’t even reassure us when we asked if he was going to be ok. The best they could say was ‘touch and go’. It developed so quickly and was so bad, that the consultant in A&E asked for my permission to treat him for meningitis without giving him a lumbar puncture, as he said time was against us. He said he would stake his career on it being that anyway. I told him to do it. He was hooked up to machines, having convulsions, and his little body was covered with all these almost dark purple marks..I’ve never seen a ‘rash’ like it in my life.
    You would never think that six days later, he would be well enough to go home, as if nothing in the world had happened. The only giveaway being that he was slightly wobbly on his feet after being in bed for six days. As you said in your post, it’s not just the live/die aspect of the disease, you then have all the added extras to worry about if you survive. He came through it completely unscathed, I can’t believe how lucky he was, for how ill he was.
    I’m happy to say that twenty years later, he is a strapping 6 foot tall young man, studying Electronic Engineering in Uni. He has a lovely girlfriend, a great group of friends that have all stayed together and stayed local since finishing their own degrees. Just so aware how different it could have been. So when my second son came home with the consent form from school a few weeks ago, it was a no brainer. He already knew how important it was to have it.
    I would urge anyone whose child hasn’t had the vaccination to get it sorted out as soon as possible, because it is a horrible disease, and I can’t stress how quickly this came on. Five o’clock in the evening he was playing out happily in the garden, twelve hours later, he was in an ambulance, being blue lighted to hospital.

    • Jo Middleton
      20 March, 2018 / 11:33 am

      Thanks so much for sharing your story – that must have been absolutely terrifying for you! It was really interesting to hear about the speedy recovery – it must have made it all feel like a bit of a dream? It’s stories like these that bring home the importance of doing everything you can to help prevent it.

      • 20 March, 2018 / 5:09 pm

        I think the recovery even shocked the nurses on the ward, It was like a dream, probably the first time in my life as an adult that I went on autopilot, if that makes sense? It was such a shock. Fine one minute, critically ill, touch and go, and back home as if nothing had happened within a week. I’d imagine that it’s an exception, not a rule though. Either way, I am eternally grateful to the NHS for saving his life.

  3. Carina
    17 March, 2018 / 9:25 am

    Hi Jo
    Great that you highlight this evil disease and yes, it leaves permanent damage, assuming you are lucky enough to survive it. It isn’t only the young, though, I had the bacterial strain (caused by TB) when I was 39 and my memory has been wiped with permanent ‘invisble disability’ and huge changes in my life as a result. I would not wish this disease on my worst enemy and yes, anything that raises awareness is vital. There are a few great organisations and brain injury awareness charities out there and some that help those who have been affected so support them if you can. Thanks for this post

    • Jo Middleton
      20 March, 2018 / 11:34 am

      Thanks for sharing your story Carina and you’re absolutely right – we shouldn’t think that just because we aren’t in the most ‘at risk’ groups that we are safe. We all need to be aware of the symptoms and ready to take action. I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been left with such life changing side effects.

  4. 17 March, 2018 / 10:43 am

    Such an important message to spread! My children have not had the vacination yet, need to.book them in x

    • Jo Middleton
      20 March, 2018 / 11:35 am

      Do Jess! I’m so glad this post came about and reminded me to follow up on Belle’s missed jab!

  5. 19 March, 2018 / 9:19 pm

    We had a Meningitis scare with our son when he was just a few months old. The doctors and nurses take it really seriously, so the minute his rash changed we were admitted straight away. Fortunately, it was a random viral infection, but we’d rather they play it safe!

    • Jo Middleton
      20 March, 2018 / 11:36 am

      That must have been so scary for you! And you’re right, much better to play it safe because you just never know.

  6. 19 March, 2018 / 10:23 pm

    It’s serious stuff isn’t it, both my brother-in-law and my husband’s aunt had Meningitis. Sadly for his aunt she lost her fingers and toes as a result. As a family we are vigilant now.

    • Jo Middleton
      20 March, 2018 / 11:36 am

      Oh wow, that’s awful! I didn’t know that could even happen, which goes to show how far there still is to go in terms of raising awareness about the disease.

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