Are you at risk?

Who is at risk from meningitis and septicaemia?

Anyone can get meningitis or septicaemia, but various factors can increase the risk:

  • Age – In general, young children are at the highest risk of getting bacterial meningitis and septicaemia but other age groups can also be vulnerable to specific types
  • Geography and environment - Some countries have higher rates of meningitis and septicaemia. There is also evidence that mass gatherings and exposure to smoke, for example, can make people more susceptible to certain causes of meningitis and septicaemia
  • Medical conditions - like problems with the immune system can increase risk
  • Contact with a case -  cases of meningitis are usually isolated, but in some situations people who have been in close contact with someone who is ill with bacterial meningitis may be at increased risk of disease

Certain age groups are at increased risk of catching meningitis and septicaemia.  Young children are particularly at risk because they have less developed immune systems than older age groups.

Vaccines allow young children to safely recognise harmful bacteria and provide vital protection for this vulnerable age group.

Young babies

Newborn babies are at the highest risk of all age groups.  In the UK, babies under the age of 3 months are 70 times more likely to get bacterial meningitis than adults.  

Meningitis vaccines are routinely given to babies from 2 months of age in the UK and Ireland.  However, babies are also particularly susceptible to meningitis caused by bacteria for which there are no vaccines currently available so it is important to know the symptoms.

Symptoms in babies


Toddlers are the next highest risk age group for bacterial meningitis.

The introduction of routine childhood vaccinations across many countries have decreased the risk in this age group globally.  Despite this, there are still causes of meningitis and septicaemia for which no vaccines are available, 

Symptoms in toddlers

Teenagers and young adults

Teenagers and young adults are at increased risk of meningitis and septicaemia caused by meningococcal bacteria.

Meningococcal bacteria can live harmlessly in the back of the nose and throat of people of all ages, but teenagers and young adults are much more likely to harbour these bacteria than other age groups, which increases their risk of disease.

Teenagers in the UK are routinely immunised against four types of meningococcal bacteria.

 Symptoms in teens and young adults

Older adults

Adults over the age of 65 are also at an increased risk of certain types of meningitis.

Some countries recommend immunisations to protect his age group.  For example, over 65s in the UK are routinely offered free [pneumococcal vaccination[CW3]].  Other countries such as the US also recommend a pneumococcal vaccine for this age group.

Symptoms in adults


Where you live in the world influences your risk of getting meningitis.  Additionally, environmental factors such as smoke exposure can increase risk.  

Travel abroad may increase your risk of encountering meningitis causing bacteria.  An up-to-date list of countries with potential risk can be obtained from

The risk of catching meningitis is the highest in the world in an area of Sub-Saharan Africa known as the meningitis belt.  This area stretches from Senegal to Ethiopia and is prone to large outbreaks of disease (known as epidemics) as a result of warm and dusty winter winds which can damage mucous membranes in the lungs and throat, making it easier for meningitis causing bacteria to invade the body. 

Large epidemics of meningitis and septicaemia caused by meningococcal bacteria disease have been linked to the Hajj pilgrimage.  As a result, vaccination with MenACWY has been a compulsory entry requirement into Saudi Arabia for pilgrims since 2002.

MenACWY vaccination for travellers and pilgrims from the UK

Certain medical conditions can put people at higher risk of meningitis and septicaemia

Meningitis and septicaemia caused by meningococcal bacteria or Hib bacteria are considered infectious, although the vast majority of cases are isolated.  

When there is a case of meningococcal or Hib meningitis and septicaemia certain people who have been in close contact with a case may need to take antibiotics or be vaccinated.

If you have been in contact with someone with meningococcal meningitis or septicaemia and are worried about becoming ill or passing the infection to others, download our 'Am I at Risk?' leaflet for more information.

Babies and toddlers are at increased risk of menigitis

Robbie Jones contracted meningococcal disease at 21 months resulting in his left leg being amputated below the knee, the right leg above the knee and the loss of fingers on his left hand.

Here Robbie and his mum, Jill, talk about when Robbie was in hospital, dealing with the after effects, walking mum up the aisle and a choice of colours for your new legs.

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Membership and support

The MRF Membership and Support team are here for you for any questions you might have about meningitis and septicaemia and their effects on you, or your family and friends.

Tel: Helpline UK 080 8800 3344 Ireland 1800 41 33 44