back to top

Meningitis B: What You Need To Know

A petition is calling for the meningitis B vaccine to be given to all children after images of a toddler who died from the disease went viral. Warning: You may find some of the images in this post distressing.

Posted on

The parents of a 2-year-old girl who recently died from meningitis have shared images of their daughter in hospital to raise awareness.

meningitisnow.org

Since then, thousands of people have signed a petition to extend meningitis B vaccinations to older children.

A national meningitis B vaccination program was launched last year and the vaccine is offered on the NHS when children are aged between 2 and 5 months. But if parents of older children want them vaccinated they must pay privately.

It's usually caused by bacteria or a virus.

The viral form is the most common, but the bacterial form is the most dangerous, according to the NHS. Rarely, meningitis can also be caused by a fungus or parasite.

Most cases of bacterial meningitis in the UK and Ireland are caused by neisseria meningitidis, often called meningococcal bacteria. Of the 12 known groups of meningococcal bacteria, group B – which is protected against by the meningitis B vaccine – is responsible for about 90% of meningococcal infections in the UK.

Meningitis B has infected between 500 and 1,700 people every year for the past 20 years, with around 1 in 10 dying from the infection. It mainly affects babies and young children.

It's not possible to tell what type of meningitis someone has from the symptoms, so all suspected cases should be treated as a medical emergency, says the NHS.

Babies and under-5s are particularly susceptible to meningitis.

This is Charlotte Cleverley-Bisman, who became famous in New Zealand as the face of a meningitis awareness campaign. She was diagnosed with meningococcal disease in 2004 and less than a month later had all four limbs amputated in order to survive.

Advertisement

But adults can get it too. It can be very serious, leading to brain damage, amputations, and death.

Instagram: @meningitis_now

Jacob Gray lost his legs after contracting the disease and spent 699 days in hospital. He now campaigns as a young ambassador for charity Meningitis Now to raise awareness.

But not every case of meningitis involves a rash.

Hugh Macknight / PA WIRE

Last year Meningitis Now ran a campaign warning people not to wait for a rash, as it doesn't always appear and if it does, it could be too late.

Warning signs for babies with the disease include: fever; vomiting and refusing to feed; feeling agitated and not wanting to be picked up; becoming drowsy, floppy, and unresponsive; breathing rapidly; having pale, blotchy skin; having a tense, bulging soft spot on their head; having a stiff neck and disliking bright lights; having convulsions or seizures.

Adults experience similar symptoms to babies and young children.

archive.org

These can include: a fever, with cold hands and feet; vomiting; drowsiness and difficulty waking up; confusion and irritability; severe muscle pain; pale blotchy skin; a severe headache; a stiff neck; sensitivity to light; and convulsion or seizures.

There are several vaccines that protect against the many kinds of bacteria that can cause meningitis.

These include the meningitis B and C vaccines, the MMR vaccine, and the pneumococcal vaccine.

A vaccination programme against meningitis C that began in 1999 has seen the number of cases of meningitis C drop.

A meningitis B vaccine programme began in the UK in September 2015. The vaccine is offered free to children who are between 2 and 5 months old as part of their childhood immunisations, and is also available to people who have a medical condition that puts them at increased risk of meningitis B.

Babies born before May 2015 are not offered the vaccine on the NHS, but their parents may choose to pay privately to get it.

Kelly Oakes is science editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.

Contact Kelly Oakes at kelly.oakes@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.