Meningitis is the inflammation of the tissues which cover the brain and spinal cord. Most cases in the UK and Ireland are caused by bacteria or viruses. Bacterial meningitis is generally more serious. While meningococcal disease is the main cause of bacterial meningitis, there are many other types including pneumococcal, Hib, Group B streptococcal and others.
What is Meningococcal Septicaemia?
Meningococcal septicaemia is a type of blood poisoning which is caused by the same bacteria that cause the most common form of bacterial meningitis. It is the more life-threatening form of the disease. With septicaemia, the bacteria release toxins into the blood which break down the walls of the blood vessels allowing blood to leak out under the skin. This leaking causes marks on the skin – a rash of red or brownish pin prick spots which develop into purple bruises, blood blisters or blood spots. Septicaemia can make you very ill because it also reduces the amount of blood reaching vital organs such as the liver and kidneys.
The risk of getting the main type of meningitis and septicaemia, meningococcal disease, is very small, even if you have been in contact with someone who has the disease.
The bacteria which cause meningitis and septicaemia are very common. Most of us will carry them at some stage in our lives without developing any illness. Only a tiny proportion of the population will develop meningitis or septicaemia if they come into contact with the bacteria.
The bacteria are very weak. They survive for only a short period of time outside the body, so they cannot live long in the air and are not carried on household objects such as clothes, furniture or toys. This means that you must be in very close contact with someone before the bacteria can pass between you. Even though this happens quite regularly, it is unlikely you will develop meningitis or septicaemia because most of us have natural resistance to the bacteria.
Although meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia are not common diseases they are very dangerous and can develop rapidly. That is why it is vital that everyone knows the signs and symptoms to watch out for.
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Meningitis Research Foundation
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