90% of children and teenagers who die of meningococcal meningitis die within 24 hours

27 Jan 2020
90% of children and teenagers who die of meningococcal meningitis die within 24 hours

Research has found that nearly 90% (88.7%) of children and teenagers who are killed by invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) die within 24 hours of diagnosis.  The research used data from Public Health England (PHE) surveillance.

Invasive Meningococcal Disease (IMD) is caused by meningococcal bacteria, and is almost always meningitis or septicaemia (also known as sepsis), less frequently pneumonia or infection in other parts of the body.  Although it has been widely known that meningitis and septicaemia can cause death swiftly, recent analysis from a team of researchers at PHE quantified precisely how swiftly the disease acts in different age groups. The research helps highlight the importance of rapid treatment.

Across all age groups, 85.3% of IMD-related deaths occurred within 24 hours of diagnosis and nearly all of them were within 30 days of diagnosis. Overall about 1 person out of every 10 who catch the disease dies of it (9.8%), although the fatality rate is much higher in older people.

This new study shows that for most of those who die of this leading cause of meningitis, the disease comes on suddenly and advances rapidly, with a very limited time window to administer life-saving treatment, underlining the importance of prevention.

"Meningitis is feared, and with good reason as this new study confirms time is of the essence when treating meningitis. With NHS emergency units under pressure, it’s vital that health professionals spot the signs of meningitis and septicaemia quickly. Sadly, we know of many families who have lost loved ones within hours - Vinny Smith, CEO, MRF

Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) will use the data to continue to advocate for prevention by vaccination as one of the key ways to defeat meningitis, due to the window for treatment being so short. The charity has called for new vaccines, better access, and greater coverage, alongside knowledge of the signs and symptoms to ensure people get quicker diagnosis and treatment. 

Vinny Smith, CEO of MRF said:  ““Parents know how dangerous and concerning meningitis is and consistently rate it as a more serious illness than other preventable diseases.  Meningitis is feared, and with good reason as this new study confirms time is of the essence when treating meningitis.  With NHS emergency units under pressure, it’s vital that health professionals spot the signs of meningitis and septicaemia quickly. Sadly, we know of many families who have lost loved ones within hours.”

“Improved vaccine coverage is needed to ensure that more people are protected when they are at risk.”

“It’s so important for everyone to trust their instincts: if you, or someone you know is ill and getting rapidly worse, seek urgent medical help, even if they have already been seen by a doctor that day.”

Early symptoms are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell. Limb pain, pale skin, and cold hands and feet often appear earlier than the rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion.

MRF encourages everyone to take up the offer of vaccines that are available to them to protect themselves and their families. However, there are not yet vaccines available to prevent all causes of meningitis and septicaemia so it is vital that people are aware of the symptoms.

Young people up to the age of 25 are strongly encouraged to check if they have had or are eligible for the MenACWY vaccination. This protects against four types of meningitis.  Anyone can check whether they are eligible for the MenACWY vaccine using our eligibility checker

Immunisation against meningococcal B (MenB) (the most common strain in the UK) is currently only offered to babies.

MRF’s free helpline and support service is here to support anyone affected by meningitis.  Anyone concerned about symptoms can find out more at meningitis.org or call 0808 8003344.

We fund research into the prevention, detection and treatment of meningitis and sepsis
You don’t need to face meningitis and sepsis alone
Meningitis and septicaemia can kill in hours - know the symptoms.
Vaccines are one of the most effective public health interventions in history, saving billions of lives since the first vaccine was produced in 1798. So how exactly do they work?
Give researchers the clues to help defeat meningitis
Give researchers the clues to help defeat meningitis
£160/€190/$214 decodes the genetic information in a sample of meningococcal bacteria. This information helps us to track new forms of meningitis and campaign to introduce new vaccines.
Media contact
Sophie Beyer - Media Relations Manager
Tel: 07875 498047
Share this