What are meningitis and septicaemia?

Meningitis and septicaemia are serious, life threatening illnesses

Fast facts

  • 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.

“Meningitis is ... the deadly disease which robbed me of my only child.” - Edwina Gray, Paisley

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.

“Meningitis is ... yucky because it made me very poorly and I had to lose my arms and legs” – Harmonie-Rose Hall


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.

“Meningitis is ... something that can happen to us all, it invades every part of a persons life and leaves nothing unharmed be that temporary or permanent. It impacts family and friends and tests all those relationships to breaking.” – Lesley Hart

Type - Bacterial (meningococcal)
Age group - Young child
Outcome - Recovery with after effects

"We were told he was dying so called our parents to the hospital"
Type - Bacterial (meningococcal)
Age group - Adult
Outcome - Bereavement

"How was I going to tell our two little boys that daddy had gone to heaven?"
Type - Viral
Age group - Adult
Outcome - Full recovery

"They told me it would take a couple of weeks to feel better. It truly has taken almost two months."
Dr Fiona McGill answers one of our most frequently asked questions.
Meningitis and septicaemia can kill in hours - know the symptoms.

Detailed information about the after effects of meningitis

There are safe and effective vaccines available that that protect against the most common causes of life-threatening bacterial meningitis and septicaemia
Help save lives by educating maternity units
Help save lives by educating maternity units
£484/€580 delivers symptoms information to every maternity unit in the UK and Ireland.
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