Charity Meningitis Now is warning people to stay vigilant to the signs and symptoms of meningitis as cases of the deadly bacterial form of the disease peak during the winter.
With the clocks going back on Sunday (29 October) and the prospect of colder winter weather the risk of meningitis increases. People spend more time indoors, closer to others; meaning germs are spread more easily.
And fighting common infections like colds and flu weakens people’s immune systems, leaving them more vulnerable to the disease.
Each year there are about 3,200 cases of bacterial meningitis in the UK – leaving 10 per cent of sufferers dead and a third of those who survive with after-effects such as brain damage, loss of hearing and sight and, where septicaemia has occurred, loss of limbs and scarring.
It’s a disease which can kill in hours, so knowledge of the symptoms, vigilance and quick action are all vital.
Dr Tom Nutt, Meningitis Now chief executive, said: “Babies and children under 5 are most at risk of meningitis, with over half of all cases occurring in this age group.
“But the disease can affect anyone, of any age, at any time. Even those who consider themselves ‘fit and healthy’ may be left fighting for their life in a matter of hours.”
Meningitis is a difficult disease to spot as many of its early symptoms can be similar to flu. These symptoms can include fever with cold hands and feet, vomiting, headache, stiff neck, dislike of bright light, joint or muscle pain, pale blotchy skin, drowsiness, confusion and, in babies, a dislike of being handled, an unusual cry, rapid breathing and bulging fontanelle.
Both adults and children may have a rash that does not fade under pressure, but advice from Meningitis Now is not to wait for a rash to develop before seeking medical attention.
Symptoms can appear in any order and some may not appear at all.
Tom added: “We urge everyone to familiarise themselves with the symptoms, trust their instincts and get urgent medical help if concerned. Doing this could save yours or a loved one’s life.”
Without vaccines for all strains of meningitis, knowing the symptoms is the best form of defence. Download Meningitis Now’s free symptoms apps or request a credit-card sized symptoms card from its website at www.meningitisnow.org
Anyone affected by the disease or who has concerns can contact the charity’s free helpline on 0808 80 10 388 for information on its free support services.