Viral Meningitis

Meningitis Now Accreditation 2019/2021What is meningitis?

Meningitis is inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord. Meningitis may be caused by a bacterial or a viral infection.

Symptoms of meningitis include Symptoms of septicaemia include
  • Severe headache
  • High temperature
  • Dislike of bright lights (photophobia)
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Neck stiffness
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid breathing
  • Confusion and drowsiness
  • Bruising rash
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Convulsions/seizures

Viral meningitis

Viral meningitis is more common than bacterial meningitis. It is usually a mild illness and is rarely life-threatening. Most people make a very good recovery, but occasionally people can become very unwell and sometimes recovery can be slow with longer lasting problems.

Bacterial meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is a rare disease but more serious than viral meningitis. It can be caused by different bacteria including those which can cause meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease can cause meningitis and/or septicaemia (blood poisoning).

Meningitis and septicaemia are very serious and need urgent medical attention. Meningitis and septicaemia can strike quickly and kill within hours, so make sure you know the signs and symptoms and what emergency action to take. It is not possible to tell whether meningitis is caused by a virus or bacteria without being seen in hospital.

Does it affect me?

Viral meningitis and meningococcal disease (meningitis +/- septicaemia) can affect people of any age but are most common in babies and young children. Teenagers and young people are the second age group most frequently affected. 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.

What can I do to protect myself and other students?

Make sure you know the signs and symptoms and what emergency action to take. Trust your instincts, if you think someone has meningitis or septicaemia get medical help immediately.

You can request a symptoms card by calling the Meningitis Now help line (0808 80 10 388) or download the free iPhone or Android app at Alternatively, the symptoms cards are available from Student Wellbeing, King’s Gate.

Get vaccinated

Meningococcal vaccines do not protect against all types of meningococcal disease so you need to know the signs and symptoms to look out for. Always check with your GP that you are up to date with your vaccinations.

From summer 2014, students who are starting university for the first time are offered a catch-up booster of Men C vaccine. This includes:
• any student entering university who was born after September 1995 and has only received Men C vaccine under the age of 10.
• any student of any age entering or being at university who is unvaccinated against Men C disease.

Ideally you should have received the booster 2 weeks before going to university, if you have not had this dose ask your GP or health centre as soon as possible. Men C vaccine is also available for anyone under 25 who has not already received it.


• Up to 10% of the UK population carries meningococcal bacteria that could cause meningitis and septicaemia in the back of their throats without becoming unwell. This rises up to 30% in the 15-19 year old age group. These people do not usually become ill and will not know that they are carrying the bacteria. Carriage may help boost your immunity. In an age group where more people are carrying the bacteria, there may be an increase in disease.

• Meningococcal bacteria are not easily passed from person to person. They are spread by droplets following close prolonged contact and intimate kissing. Increased close social interaction in this age group may allow the bacteria can be passed on more easily!

• 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.

• When students go off to university, it is often the first time they are living away from their parents and, more often than not, their own health and wellbeing is not a priority for them.

• With no parents to keep an eye on their health, meningitis can get missed. It is vital that someone always knows if you are feeling unwell and can check up on you.

• Make sure you are registered with a GP surgery or health centre while you are at university, and you know how to contact them.

For more information on the signs and symptoms of Meningitis and Septicaemia, please visit