What are meningitis and septicaemia?

  • 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.

Who gets meningitis and septicaemia?

Anyone of any age can get meningitis or septicaemia, but various factors can increase the risk.

  • Geographical location - some countries have higher rates of meningitis and septicaemia than others.  For example, many kinds of meningitis are much more common in developing countries than elsewhere.  The only way to address this is through vaccination
  • Environmental factors - exposure to smoke, for example, can make you more susceptible to infection
  • Medical conditions and immunodeficiencies
  • Age is one of the main risk factors. Read on to find out more


Babies are at higher risk of bacterial meningitis than any other age group. They can get all of the main types of bacterial meningitis and septicaemia, including
The introduction of vaccines against some of these infections has decreased the risk to babies, but there are still types of meningitis and septicaemia for which there is no vaccine. So it is important to know the symptoms in babies and to protect your baby as much as possible through immunisation. 

In the UK and Ireland, every routine injection offered to babies in the immunisation schedule protects against meningitis.

Newborn babies are also particularly susceptible GBS, E. coli and Listeria.

Newborn babies are particularly susceptible to meningitis caused by other types of bacteria such as 


Toddlers are also at increased risk of meningitis, although the risk is not as high as in babies.  Baby and toddler immune systems are still developing and this is why they are more likely to be infected than older children and adults when they encounter the bacteria.  

Young adults

Teenagers and young adults are at risk mainly from meningococcal disease.  The introduction of the MenC vaccine has dramatically reduced cases of Group C meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia.  However, Group B and other rarer types of meningococcal disease continue to cause cases in teenagers.