Meningitis; what is it? What to watch for!

What is it?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining that covers the brain and spinal cord.  It is caused by bacterial or viral infections.  The bacterial form can be fatal and causes serious long term health complications – especially if not treated early.

How do you get it?

Close contact is needed to pass it on to others such as kissing, coughing or sneezing near to others.  Living close together in shared accommodation can pose a risk, as does sitting close together in lecture theatres, though less so. Thats why all Freshers should be immunised!

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms can appear in any order and some may not appear at all;

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle pain
  • Fever with cold hands and feet
  • Drowsy – difficult to wake
  • Confusion and irritability
  • Stiff neck
  • Dislike of bright lights
  • Pale blotchy skin
  • Spots/rash (that do not fade under pressure, do the ‘glass test’)
  • Convulsions/seizures

What can I do?

Get vaccinated – MenACWY vaccine directly protects vaccinated people from 4 strains of meningococcal meningitis and stops them from carrying the bacteria.

Familiarise yourself with signs and symptoms and be alert.

Look out for yourself and friends.  Share awareness and care for each other – don’t assume an illness is hangover or touch of flu – if you think a friend or housemate is ill trust your instincts and seek medical help.  Keep an eye on your friends if they are getting a lot worse quickly seek help.

How do I get help?

Call the GP or NHS 111 if out of GP opening hours

Describe the symptoms and say that you think it could be meningitis.

In an emergency dial 999 for an ambulance or go to your nearest Accident and Emergency Department.

Download our ESC Student Health App for more info, on your phone. on the App Store now.


For further information







Watch out for your mates…. Tales of Meningitis


“I was revising in the library for my last exam, getting excited to go home for the summer when I felt a rush of shiver run through me. I got a headache, felt sick and cold.  My headachegot worse as the day went on and I was so tired.  My friend lent me his jacket and I fell asleep with my head on the desk for a while”

And about another university student-

“The next day she said she still felt under the weather, was going to bed early. We owe her life to her housemate, Andy, who noticed she hadn’t got up the next morning.”

Both of these students had meningitis and survived due to their friends seeking medical help and calling 999 when they were found seriously unwell.

Meningitis is thankfully rare, and rates of one type- Meningitis C – are reducing, due to vaccination with the Meningitis C vaccine. But we cannot vaccinate against all types yet.

Meningitis can affect all age groups, but young adults are at higher risk. This is especially the case for students living in halls and socialising in larger groups.

So what is Meningitis?

It’s inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord- the meninges. Septicaemia is the blood poisoning form of infection.

Viral meningitis is the most common form, and is usually less serious than bacterial meningitis. There are around 2,500 cases of bacterial meningitis yearly in the UK, and double that number of viral cases.

 In the UK the most common form of bacterial meningitis is meningococcal and pneumococcal meningitis. Meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia often occur together. 10% of bacterial meningitis cases result in death and 15% will result in long term complications.

So what do you need to watch for?

General symptoms

These symptoms can develop as part of the body’s normal response to an infection.

  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • Severe lethargy (tiredness, exhaustion, fatigue)
  • Irritability/Unsettled behaviour
  • Ill appearance
  • Severe joint/muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Fever

Specific symptoms of MENINGITIS

These are more specific to meningitis and are less common in other illnesses.

  • Stiff neck 
  • Dislike of bright light 
  • Seizure, stiff/jerky movements
  • Altered mental state/confusion 

Specific symptoms of SEPTICAEMIA

These symptoms are more specific to septicaemia. However, other illnesses may also cause some of these symptoms, such as the non-fading rash.

  • Cold hands & feet 
  • Leg pain 
  • Abnormal skin colour 
  • Altered mental state/confusion
  • Non-fading rash 

So what to do?

Make sure you have had your Meningitis C immunisation (and check for 2 MMR injections too whilst you’re at it!)

Be aware of the symptoms and signs of meningitis and septicaemia, and act on any concerns- seek help!….and watch out for your mates!

Download the free app- Meningitis signs and symptoms by the Meningitis Trust