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The symptoms of meningitis are not always easy to spot and a wrong diagnosis can have tragic consequences. Meningitis is caused either by viruses or bacteria and is the inflammation of the meninges, the membrane lining the brain and spinal cord. The disease becomes more common in autumn and winter.

Around one in ten cases of meningitis caused by bacteria end up in death and a further one in seven patients are left with long-term problems such as brain damage or deafness. Of the four main types of bacterial meningitis, pneumococcal, which often affects children under five, is the most serious. The haemophilus influenzae type B strain also hits children under school age although as vaccine for this type has been formulated. The most common form of bacterial meningitis is meningococcal Strain B, for which there is no reliable vaccine yet. Steptococcal meningitis is more unusual but it can kill up to half of its victims.

It is important to know what symptoms to look out for as they can often be mistaken for something much less serious. Look out for fever, vomiting, severe headache, stiff neck, dislike of bright lights, drowsiness, rash, cold hands and feet, rapid breathing, abdominal pain and muscle/joint pain. Not all the symptoms are present in each type of meningitis or in all the cases. If you are worried you should contact your doctor immediately. Once diagnosed the patient will be immediately treated with antibiotics even if tests show the cause to be viral, not bacterial. In some cases it will be necessary to stay in hospital for a longer time receiving intravenous fluids and monitoring.