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Why are some people affected by meningitis, but not others?

July 2021

There are many different causes of meningitis and septicaemia, but this blog is specifically about meningitis and septicaemia, caused by meningococcal bacteria. Some of you may be familiar with the term Neisseria meningitidis - the name given to the meningococcal bacteria itself.

Why me? Why my family? How could this happen to us?

This disease knows no boundaries and does not discriminate. It has been described as cruel, vicious, devastating, unforgiving, evil. So sadly, we are all too familiar with the impact this disease can have on individuals and families alike. Whether you are living with the after effects or coping with the death of a loved one, we are here for you. You don’t need to face meningitis and septicaemia alone. If you’d like to talk, our helpline 080 8800 3344 is available Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm. Or, you can email helpline@meningitis.org. Further information about our support services can be found here.

You might be surprised to learn that meningococcal bacteria are very common: at any one time about one in ten of us has them in our noses and throats without ever knowing they are there, and for most of us this is harmless.

We pass the bacteria between each other by close contact. Usually we have to be in close or regular contact with someone for the bacteria to pass between us. Even when this happens, most of us will not become ill because we have natural immunity.

So why did I get ill? Why did my family member get ill?

People get the disease when the bacteria move from the nose and throat and invade the body. Sadly, we do not yet fully understand why some people get ill from germs that are harmless to most of us. Scientists are working tirelessly to find out the answer to this all important question, and we’ve been supporting research into this area since 1995. When we know this, we will be one step ahead in this fight against meningitis and septicaemia. Until then, one of our best weapons against this disease, is vaccination. The UK’s robust vaccination programme is in place to protect those who are at most risk at a critical time.

When bad things happen in our lives, we look for reasons why. Everything should have a cause and effect, right? It helps things make sense. Why should our instinct to find answers change for this disease? It doesn’t. Seeking clarity is a huge step to help the healing process. When we can’t find that clarity, it grinds away at us, leaving us feeling exhausted, weak, lonely, frustrated and cheated.

I’d like to reiterate that we are here for you, you are not alone. We will support you, and try to answer any questions you might have. We may not have all the answers, but we will strive to find them and we will continue to work with scientists to identify the answer to the fundamental question of ‘why me’?

Meningitis and septicaemia are serious, life threatening illnesses
Since the charity was founded in 1989, we have awarded 161 research grants. The total value of our investment in vital scientific research is over £19.1 million (€24.7 million).
You don’t need to face meningitis and sepsis alone
A global vision for meningitis by 2030 and an action plan to get there.
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About the author

Katherine Carter
Information and Support Officer

Hi, I’m Katherine and I joined Meningitis Research Foundation in August 2015. I raise awareness of meningitis and septicaemia by sharing medical information about the disease with the general public and health professionals.

I am involved in organising MRF events for families and health professionals, and meet our members and supporters in the community offering our support, whatever their experience of meningitis and septicaemia.
I also take helpline calls and answer emails from people with a range of queries about meningitis and septicaemia, including symptoms and after effects, and offer them support if they or their loved ones are affected. I am humbled by the inspirational people we meet.

Tel: 0333 405 6269