Meningitis is an inflammation (swelling) of the lining of the
brain. It can be caused by viruses or bacteria.
Meningitis is rare and does not spread easily from person to
person. The bacteria which cause meningitis and
meningococcal disease are spread by coughing, sneezing or direct
contact such as kissing, but they die rapidly outside the body so
there is little risk unless you have had very close contact with an
infected person. However, the disease can develop very rapidly,
sometimes within a matter of hours. The biggest problem is that most
of the early symptoms are mild and similar to those you get with flu
Key symptoms include:
joint or muscle pains
dislike of bright lights
a fine rash which does not disappear when pressed with a glass;
detailed information of the
Not all of these symptoms need to be present.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms,
get medical help immediately.
Do not wait until the following day. Around one in ten cases are
fatal, and people with meningitis can become seriously ill very
Early treatment saves lives and can reduce the long term impact of
What to do in an emergency
If you need to see a doctor urgently out of surgery hours or at
weekends or vacation time, please contact the practice you are
registered with or NHS Direct on 111.
Further information on meningitis is available at:
Meningitis Research Foundation
(this site provides information in a range of languages)
There are two national meningitis helplines which
are also happy to answer ‘over the phone enquiries’:
- Tel: 0808 800 3344 or;
- Tel: 0808 80 10 388.
If you have had close contact with a person diagnosed with
probable bacterial meningitis, you will be offered antibiotics to
minimise the risk of becoming ill or transmitting the disease.
Antibiotics are not offered for less close contacts because the
risks are small and because:
- The meningitis germ may become resistant to the
antibiotics and so make future protection impossible
- There can be side effects from taking
antibiotics, which are occasionally serious
- The nose and throat contain many germs which
protect against infection. Antibiotics may kill all
of these germs and remove this natural protection,
which may put people more at risk of developing
Vaccination is not generally recommended in response to a case of
meningitis as there are several different strains of meningitis and
it does not provide protection against the most common form. So,
even if you have been vaccinated against Meningitis C, please seek
medical help if you are suffering from the symptoms above.
Emergencies and out of hours
If you need medical advice outside of surgery opening hours please
ring NHS Direct on 111 or visit