What are meningitis and septicaemia?

In hospital with meningitis

Meningitis and septicaemia can kill in hours.

Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord.

Septicaemia is the blood poisoning form of the disease.

The two forms of the disease have different symptoms. People who recover from meningitis and septicaemia may be left with a range of after effects that dramatically alter their lives.

Meningitis is usually bacterial or viral, and occasionally is due to fungal infections, although almost any microbe can cause it.

Viral meningitis can be very unpleasant but it is almost never life threatening and most people quickly make a full recovery.

Bacterial meningitis is more serious and can be caused by a range of different bacteria.

Most cases in the UK and Ireland are caused by meningococcal bacteria.

Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis, septicaemia or both. Most people who get the disease have some symptoms of both meningococcal meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia; together these two forms of the disease are known as meningococcal disease.

Septicaemia is the more life threatening form of the disease and is more dangerous when there are no signs of meningitis.

Other major forms of bacterial meningitis are:

Bacterial forms that mostly, though not exclusively, affect newborn babies are:

There are vaccines available against some types of meningitis and septicaemia which have reduced the number of cases in the UK and Ireland:

There is also vaccination when travelling to other countries where different types of the disease are more common.

However, many other equally deadly forms of the diseases are not vaccine preventable, so until research finds the key to defeating these diseases, knowing about the diseases and being able to recognise meningitis symptoms is vital.

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