MENINGITIS What is it? Meningitis is an inflammation of the soft tissues around the brain that can be caused by viruses or bacteria. Viral meningitis is the most common, and it is usually mild. Bacterial meningitis can be caused by a number of germs including Meningococcus and Haemophilus Influenzae. What are the symptoms? Individuals usually become ill gradually, over one to two days, but some can become ill over just a few hours. Most individuals with meningitis will have a fever and a severe headache. They may have a stiff neck, dislike of bright lights, vomiting and drowsiness and they may develop a purple rash. How is it spread? The meningococcus bacterium is carried in the throat of 5-10% of the population. It is spread from person to person by coughs and sneezes. However, very close contact is needed for the germ to infect another person, so the disease is NOT very infectious. How can it be prevented? Meningococcus type “C” and Haemophilus Influenzae can be prevented through immunisation in childhood. Persons who have been in very close contact with a case of meningitis may be given antibiotics to prevent them from spreading the disease if the Consultant in Public Health Medicine considers that the infection may have been caused by a bacterium, and that medication may be of benefit. People who have not had such close contact are at very little risk of catching the disease, and they will not need antibiotics. Exclusion Period Persons with meningitis will be too ill to go to school or work. Contacts of cases should attend classes as normal. It is very rare for other people in a school/college or university to develop the infection, so there is no need to stay at home if there has been a case reported in the establishment.