Meningitis and Septicaemia (Meningococcal Disease)

Over 12% of all cases of meningococcal disease occur in the 14 – 24 year old age group and first year university students may be at particular risk.

University students can be more vulnerable due to living in more cramped housing or halls of residence. In many cases young people come together from all over the country, and the world - to live in one place and can be exposed to bacteria and viruses their bodies have not met before. This is why so many new students get ‘fresher’s flu’.

The early symptoms of meningitis are similar to many other common things, such as the flu, or maybe a hangover. It’s easy to mistake meningitis for something else.

Meningitis (swelling of the lining of the brain) has many different causes, including infections with bacteria and viruses. Bacterial meningitis is the most serious type. Infection with the meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis and/or septicemia (blood poisoning) and is known as meningococcal disease.

Signs and symptoms

The meningococcal vaccine does not protect against all causes of meningitis and septiciaemia. That is why it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms. Early signs are often mild and similar to those you get with 'flu or a hangover. They can include:

  • vomiting
  • feeling feverish
  • pain in the limbs, joints or muscles
  • a severe headache
  • a stiff neck
  • drowsiness
Get medical help urgently if any of the following symptoms develop:
  • severe dislike of light
  • disorientation, irritability, confusion, difficult to wake
  • a rash that doesn't fade under pressure - this may look like pin-pricks or bruises (do the Glass Test)
  • decreased consciousness, progressing to coma.
  • convulsions (fits)

Not everyone will have all signs and symptoms and they can appear in any order. If you or a friend develop some of these symptoms or feel worried don't delay, get help straight away. For more information, please visit the Meningitis Now web site.

The glass test

If someone has developed a rash, you can do the glass test. Press the side of a glass firmly against the rash, you will be able to see if it fades and loses colour under the pressure. The rash of meningoccal disease does not fade. If the rash doesn't change colour, contact your doctor or go to the nearest Accident and Emergency Department immediately.

Please note: The above information is extracted from the NHS 2007 leaflet. Don't ignore the signs.

International Students

How to recognise the symptoms available in other languages