Meningococcal meningitis is a bacterial or viral infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Bacterial meningitis is rarer but more severe than viral meningitis.
Meningitis is usually caught from those who are not ill themselves but carry the bacteria or viruses in their nose and throat. These infections that cause meningitis can be spread through coughing, sneezing, sharing of utensils and toothbrushes and kissing. There is also a risk of getting meningitis if travelling to an area prone to breakouts.
It is most common in babies, children, teenagers and young adults and can be fatal if left untreated as it can cause septicaemia, resulting in permanent damage to the nerves or brain.
Symptoms of meningitis can appear in any order and you may not necessarily exhibit all the symptoms. These symptoms can develop suddenly and include:
- patchy rashes
- stiffness in the neck
- a headache
- extreme sensitivity to light
- drowsiness or confusion
- a high temperature (38C or above)
- a general feeling of discomfort
- joint pain
People with suspected meningitis will usually have tests to confirm the diagnosis and ascertain whether the condition is the result of a viral or bacterial infection.
Viral meningitis will usually get better on its own within 7-10 days. Treatment at home, consisting of painkillers, rest and anti-sickness medication will help alleviate symptoms.
If treated quickly, those with bacterial meningitis can also make a full recovery. However, bacterial meningitis often requires hospitalisation for at least a week. Treatment within the hospital will consist of intravenous antibiotics and fluids.
Some people with bacterial meningitis may still experience some serious long-lasting issues, such as:
- problems with concentration
- problems with memory
- hearing loss (complete or partial)
- vision loss (complete or partial)
- co-ordination and balance issues
- amputation of affected limbs
Prevention and Vaccination
Travellers should try to avoid close contact with local people where there is a possible risk of catching the infection.
However, there are vaccinations that offer some protection against certain causes of meningitis. There are a number of vaccinations against meningitis that babies and young children receive as part of the NHS vaccination schedule. However, the meningitis ACWY vaccine is the vaccine offered to teenagers and young adults. Ideally, it should be taken between 2-3 weeks before any travel departure date.
During your consultation with an Ahmeys travel health practitioner, you will undertake a travel risk assessment based on your itinerary and travel plans. Our expert practitioners are also well placed to discuss and assess the risks versus the benefits of vaccination of those who are pregnant or who suffer from certain allergies. Our aim is for you to leave your consultation feeling confident and fully informed.