Meningitis is a medical condition in which the wrappings that cover the brain and spinal cord become inflamed. It is nearly always caused by an infection, and can cause symptoms such as fever, vomiting, a stiff neck, dislike of bright lights, confusion and seizures. If the infection also causes septicaemia (blood poisoning), then the patient will also develop a rash all over their body, which does not fade when pressed against a glass.
Meningitis C is a specific type of meningitis caused by meningococcal bacteria. In the UK, babies are vaccinated against meningitis C, and young adults can also receive a booster meningitis C vaccination when they are at school or attending university.
Contracting Meningitis C
If you received the meningitis C vaccine as a baby, plus a booster as a young adult or teenager, or before going travelling, you will be well-protected against meningitis C. However there are a few things to be aware of when it comes to meningitis C if haven’t been fully vaccinated.
Meningitis C is most likely to affect babies, young children, teenagers, young adults, and the elderly, as well as anyone who has a compromised immune system. It is caused by the MenC strain of meningococcal bacteria. This strain, like the other major types of meningococcus, can cause meningitis and septicaemia (otherwise known as meningococcal disease). This is a life-threatening condition, and can be fatal if not treated quickly. Meningococcus is spread through respiratory fluid, and be contracted from kissing, coughing, sneezing, or sharing toothbrushes or utensils. Because it can be spread by a carrier who has not become ill themselves, it’s not always easy to avoid.
Meningitis C Symptoms
The symptoms of meningitis C are the same as the symptoms for the other meningococcal strains. To begin with, the symptoms are flu-like, and typically involve a fever, vomiting, nausea and a headache. After that, more distinctive symptoms emerge:
- Aching joints
- Cold hands and feet
- Pale or mottled skin
- A stiff neck
- A rash
- Dislike of bright lights
- Excessive drowsiness
In babies, you may notice that they:
- Have a bulging soft spot on their head
- Are refusing to feed
- Are irritable or agitated
- Have gone floppy and unresponsive
- Have gone stiff
- Are crying or moaning in an unusual way
Perhaps the most recognisable symptom of meningitis is the all-over body rash that does not go away when you press a clear glass against it. Though the rash does not present in all cases of meningitis, it is a classic symptom of bacterial - and more specifically, meningococcal - meningitis. The meningococcal bacteria that causes meningitis C can cause septicaemia, which is what causes the body rash.
The rash will at first appear as small, red pinpricks and will spread quickly across the body. The spots will become larger and more blotchy, and may change colour, becoming darker. You should use the “glass test” described above to check your rash and see if it has been caused by septicaemia. Septicaemia requires immediate medical attention.
Treatment for Meningitis C
If you are diagnosed with meningitis C, you will require medical care in a hospital. You will be treated with antibiotics, which will tackle the bacterial infection and clear up the septicaemia and the meningitis. In some cases, meningitis C can leave lasting medical problems, such as neurological damage and scarring. In extreme cases where the septicaemia has been allowed to progress for too long, amputation of damaged tissue may be required.
The important thing to know is that time is crucial when it comes to meningitis. If you think you may have it, you should go to A&E as soon as possible.
The Meningitis C Vaccine
In the UK, babies are routinely immunised against meningitis C for free on the NHS. Teenagers and young adults entering university for the first time will also be offered the meningitis C vaccination, as part of the ACWY vaccine.
The Meningitis ACWY vaccine offers protection against four different strains of meningococcal bacteria that cause meningitis: MenA, MenC, MenW and MenY. It offers good protection to young adults entering the university environment, but is also a necessary precaution for certain travellers.
People taking part in the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages in Saudi Arabia are required to receive the ACWY vaccine before entering the country. Travellers to certain African countries are also advised to receive the vaccine.