Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain (meninges) and can be caused by a virus, a bacteria and even in rare cases amoeba.
A quarter of teenagers aged 15 – 19 years are carriers of meningococcal bacteria that can cause meningitis in the back of their throats; this is much higher than the general population – around one in ten in the UK.
Groups A, B, C, W and Y are the five main groups of meningococcal bacteria that commonly cause disease.
Meningococcal bacteria are passed from person to person by kissing, coughing and sneezing. Increased social interaction in this age group means that the bacteria can be passed on more easily.
Teenagers tend to have social interaction with large numbers of the teenagers which facilitate transmission of the bacteria that can cause bacterial meningitis.
Since 2009, each year the cases of an aggressive strain of bacteria Meningococcal group W (Men W) have increased particularly amongst university students.
Students can be more vulnerable to meningitis because they often live in crowded halls of residence on campus. There is a sudden mixing of people from lots of different locations so new students, in particular, are suddenly bombarded with viruses and bacteria that their immune systems are not familiar with. This leads to lots of students coming down with a range of infectious diseases, usually they are ultimately harmless viral infections, but the risk of bacterial meningitis is increased too.
One big problem is that the early vital symptoms of meningitis can be wrongly put down to a hangover or the ‘flu.’
Without concerned parents around new students may not get medical help or want to go to the trouble of speaking to a doctor. Instead, they may opt to try and ‘sleep it off.’
It is important to educate your teenager about meningitis and make sure her health needs are supported when she leaves home for college or university.
Several things you can do include:
Vaccination does not protect against all types of meningitis as it can be caused by many bacterial and viral infections, make sure you know the signs and symptoms to look out for.
The video below focuses on babies, but the advice is the same for teenagers and the rash looks the same. If in doubt seek emergency medical help as every second counts. With the help of footage from Meningitis Research Foundation, our paediatric consultant, Dr Anna Maw, explains about meningitis and what action to take if you suspect the disease.
If your teenager has meningitis or sepsis she may get dangerously ill very quickly, even if she is generally strong and healthy. Trust your instincts, err on the side of caution and take them to A&E or the ER, even if it’s the middle of the night.
Symptoms of Meningitis include: