Charity Issues Urgent Meningitis Warning To Parents During High-Risk Christmas Period

A national charity has issued a warning to parents that children are more likely to get meningitis over the Christmas period than at any other time of the year.

The Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) is urging parents to be aware of the symptoms, especially in babies, as they can sometimes be mistaken for a mild illness.

"In the early stages, meningitis and septicaemia can often be mistaken for flu, but they can kill and seriously disable a healthy person within hours," said Vinny Smith, CEO of MRF.

"We know this is the season when cases increase so it’s really important people are aware just how vulnerable babies, young children, teenagers and students can be," adds Smith.

According to the charity children are at a heightened risk of meningitis at this time of year as they will be in close contact with more people than usual at Christmas gatherings and their immune systems may be lowered due to bugs like cold and flu.

Smith said the introduction of two new meningitis vaccines to the UK earlier this year (MenB and MenACWY) was a huge milestone, but parents need to remember the vaccines do not protect against all forms of the disease.

Smith said one in ten people affected by bacterial meningitis (as opposed to viral meningitis which can be easily treated) will die and a third of survivors will be left with after-effects, some as serious as brain damage, amputations, blindness and hearing loss.

He told HuffPost UK Parents the warning signs parents need to watch out for.

"The first symptoms are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell. Limb pain, pale skin, and cold hands and feet often appear earlier than the rash," he said.

"Neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion are also symptoms.

"Further signs in babies include tense or bulging soft spot on their head, refusing to feed, being irritable when picked up, with a high pitched or moaning cry, a stiff body with jerky movements, or else floppy and lifeless."

He added: "Trust your instincts. A child who has meningitis or septicaemia could become seriously ill very quickly.

"Get medical help immediately if you suspect meningitis or septicaemia - it's a race against time."

The Meningitis Research Foundation estimates there are around 3,200 cases of meningitis and septicaemia every year in the UK.

The charity said they were "delighted" that the MenB vaccine is now offered to babies for free under the NHS.

However, they remain concerned there is no "catch up campaign" for toddlers and no recommendation for teenagers.

For more information on the winter campaign visit Meningitis Research Foundation.

Meningitis Symptoms