Back to school warning: Know the difference between swine flu and meningitis

Back to school warning: Know the difference between swine flu and meningitis

31 August 2009

Meningitis Research Foundation is urging all parents and teachers to be extra vigilant about meningitis as children return to school.  Cases of swine flu are expected to rise again as the school term gets underway and winter approaches.  MRF is warning people how easy it is to mistake the early symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia for flu symptoms - there have already been at least five deaths from meningitis in people originally thought to have swine flu. It is very important not to be complacent about these potentially serious diseases, and to learn to recognise the early symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia.  

What's more, the swine flu pandemic may lead to a rise in cases of meningitis in the UK this year, as has happened following flu epidemics in the past.  Children and teenagers are already more at risk of meningitis and septicaemia than adults, and cases tend to increase in the autumn and winter.  

People who feel unwell with fever, headache and flu-like symptoms are most likely to have flu, but it is important to know the symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia in case the illness gets worse.  Delayed diagnosis of meningitis coupled with the rapid progress of the disease can be fatal.  Meningitis can kill in hours.

MRF's Chief Executive, Christopher Head commented: "If swine flu cases increase, there could be more cases of meningitis and septicaemia this winter.  Spotting meningitis symptoms early can save lives. Specifically look out for the Red Flag early warning symptoms: Cold hands and feet, severe pain in the limbs and joints, and pale or mottled skin, as well as the 'classic' symptoms like a non-blanching rash, stiff neck and dislike of bright lights. It is important not to be deterred from seeking medical help if you are worried about a child who is ill."

If you are concerned simply call MRF's Freefone 24-hour helpline - 080 8800 3344. Ask for your free symptoms leaflet. Trained staff and nurses are on-hand to talk through any aspect of meningitis and septicaemia.  We also provide free symptoms cards and leaflets for schools and places of work, which can be ordered through the helpline or by visiting our website
This information is also available by SMS text message - text MRF to 82088 to receive symptoms information on your mobile. It costs just one text message and minimal data download charges, and could help save a life.

Media Contact:     

Harpinder Collacott (Meningitis Research Foundation) 01454 281811 or 07711 057875

Notes to Editor:

  • Meningitis Research Foundation is currently funding 24 research projects into the prevention, detection and treatment of meningitis and septicaemia. The Foundation has spent £15.6 million on research since its inception in 1989.
  • Meningitis Research Foundation operates a Freefone 24 hour helpline - 080 8800 3344 - providing information on meningitis and septicaemia to the general public and health professionals.
  • Information on meningitis and septicaemia is also available on the Foundation's world-renowned website - - in 22 languages. An interpretation service in 150 languages is available through the 24-hour helpline.
  • The Foundation offers support for those affected by meningitis and septicaemia. Trained helpline staff are available 365 days a year. A befriender service links people with experience of meningitis and septicaemia to share their experiences and counsel each other.

Sam Williams
Media Relations Manager

Hi, I’m Sam and I’m MRF's PR Manager.

If you want to know more about this story call me on 0333 405 626251, out of office hours on 07875 498047 or email me