20/08/2014 08:40 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

Meningitis: Parents Warned To Be Vigilant Ahead Of New School Term

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Parents are being urged to learn the symptoms of meningitis as children prepare to return to classrooms after the summer holidays.

Meningitis Now, formerly Meningitis UK, is the country's leading meningitis awareness charity, and is spearheading the campaign to ensure families remain vigilant when it comes to their children's health.

The most common form of the disease, viral meningitis, can make the sufferer very unwell but is not usually dangerous.

However, bacterial meningitis is extremely serious illness which is lethal in 10 per cent of cases, and must be treated as soon as possible.

Meningitis is contagious, and can be spread by close contact - this includes things like sharing cutlery, coughs and sneezing, and kissing - putting children and young people especially at risk.

Meningitis Now chief executive, Sue Davie, has advised parents to familiarise themselves with the symptoms of meningitis, as a speedy diagnosis of the disease could be the difference between life and death.

Sue warned parents not to wait for the rash to diagnose a potential case of the disease. The rash 'doesn't always appear and can appear late', she said, urging parents to seek medical attention immediately if they are concerned their child is showing signs of meningitis.

Symptoms to look out for include:

- fever
- stiff neck
- drowsiness
- severe headache
- cold hands and feet
- muscle pain
- seizures or convulsions
- confusion
- vomiting
- sensitivity to light
- a red rash that doesn't fade when a glass is pressed to it

Young children are particularly at risk, as their underdeveloped immune system makes them vulnerable to infection.

Under fives represent half of all cases of meningitis, and the disease is responsible for more deaths in this age group than any other infectious disease.

Teenagers and young adults are particularly susceptible, too, as the student lifestyle often involves living in close quarters with new people. Incoming university freshers are being encouraged to get a meningitis C booster vaccine to 'top up' their protection.

Dr Shamez Ladhani, a disease expert for Public Health England, warned: "Students starting university and mixing with lots of new people, some of whom may unknowingly carry the meningococcal bacteria, are at risk of infection."