Meningitis is often mistaken for flu, be extra vigilant this winter

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Meningitis Research Foundation is warning parents of young children as well as teenagers and students to be especially aware of the symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia during the winter months.

These groups are most at risk and are not protected against all forms of the disease.

MRF is also urging first-year university students to get their MenC booster if they haven’t already done so.

Although uncommon, because most babies and teenagers are vaccinated against this kind of meningitis, we are seeing MenC cases this year. Fortunately the MenC booster programme for students has been extended until March.

Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation for Public Health England, and a key MRF adviser said: “Meningococcal C disease is a rare but life-threatening infection that occurs mainly in children and young adults.

“Students starting university and mixing with lots of new people, some of whom may unknowingly carry the meningococcal bacteria, are at risk of infection.

“As the protection offered by the infant MenC vaccine wanes over time we are reminding university freshers of the importance of getting a booster from their university or college health centre or GP, even if they received it as a young child.”

Chris Head, CEO of Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF), added: “Parents are often unaware just how vulnerable their children are to meningitis – especially young children, teenagers and students.

“They assume current vaccines offer blanket protection but this isn’t the case.

“We are now in the the peak period for meningitis and septicaemia so it’s more essential than ever that parents are well informed and have the confidence to seek medical help fast if they fear for their children.”

There has also been a concerning rise in cases due to a new ST11 strain of MenW, which has a higher fatality rate than other forms of the disease. This has prompted the government’s vaccine advisory committee to advocate MenACWY vaccine as the school booster for teenagers in place of MenC.

Meningitis and septicaemia are often mistaken for milder illnesses, such as flu, and in the winter months people are more susceptible because their immune systems can be weakened fighting common infections. Bacterial meningitis and septicaemia can kill and seriously disable a healthy person within hours.

Around one in ten people affected will die and a third of survivors will be left with after-effects, some as serious as brain damage, amputations, blindness and hearing loss.

Anyone who would like further information about the symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia or have any concerns should visit www.meningitis.org or call the freefone helpline on 080 8800 3344.