What are meningitis and septicaemia?

Meningitis and septicaemia are serious, life threatening illnesses

Meningitis and septicaemia are serious, life threatening illnesses

  • Meningitis is the swelling of the meninges, which is the lining around the brain and spinal cord, caused mainly by germs entering the body
  • Septicaemia is blood poisoning caused by the same germs that can cause meningitis
  • Meningitis and septicaemia are illnesses that can kill in hours
  • Anyone, anywhere of any age can get meningitis and septicaemia, although some people are at higher risk than others

What are the causes?

There are many different causes of meningitis and septicaemia. Different germs such as bacteria, viruses and fungi can cause meningitis and septicaemia if they invade the body.

  • Bacterial causes are usually more serious than other forms.
  • Viral meningitis is almost never life-threatening and viruses rarely cause septicaemia.
  • Fungal meningitis is very rare in the UK and Ireland but is serious.  It usually only affects people with weakened immune systems.
Causes and types of meningitis and septicaemia 

How can I protect myself and my family?

There are vaccines available that protect against some of the most common causes of meningitis and septicaemia.  These vaccines have successfully reduced the number of cases throughout the world.   

However, there are still some causes of meningitis and septicaemia which are not vaccine preventable and some vaccines are not routinely provided in some parts of the world.

Being able to recognise the symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia is vital because early recognition and treatment provide the best chance of a good recovery.


Treatment of meningitis and septicaemia will depend on what germs have caused the illness. Meningitis and septicaemia caused by bacteria need urgent treatment with antibiotics.

If you are worried about someone who is ill do not be afraid to seek medical help immediately.


Most people recover with no lasting effects, but some who recover from meningitis and septicaemia may be left with a range of serious after effects that can dramatically alter their lives.

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Meningitis and septicaemia are serious, life threatening illnesses

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