What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is the inflammation of  the lining which surrounds the brain and the spinal cord. It can be caused by several different germs, mainly bacteria and viruses. Viral meningitis is more common than bacterial although rarely life threatening. Bacterial meningitis is quite rare, but it can be very serious and needs urgent treatment with antibiotics. There are many different strains of bacterial Meningitis of which the more common is Meningococcal Group B.

The germs that cause bacterial Meningitis are very common in the back of the nose and throat. People of any age can carry these germs without becoming ill. It is only very rarely that they overcome the body’s defense system and cause Meningitis.

They are spread between people through very prolonged close contact such as coughing, sneezing and kissing. Since they cannot live outside the body for long, they cannot be picked up from water supplies, swimming pools, buildings or factories.


The different types of Meningitis

In some cases, the Meningococcal bacteria that can cause Meningitis can also cause blood poisoning or Septicemia which can develop very quickly. A rash appears under the skin which starts as a cluster of tiny blood spots and looks like pin-pricks in the skin. If they are left untreated, they get bigger and become multiple areas of obvious bleeding under the skin surface like fresh bruises.

The rash can appear anywhere on the body and must be taken seriously. It will be more difficult to see the rash if you have dark skin. The spots or bruises do not disappear when pressed. A person who develops Meningococcal Septicemia may have symptoms of rash, fever, vomiting, and stomach pain.


How to spot Meningitis

 At early stages, the symptoms of Meningitis resemble those of a flu. The illness progresses over one or two days, but it can develop very rapidly, sometimes in a matter of hours. Below are the signs and symptoms for adults. (not all these symptoms may show at once).





neck stiffness, joint pain  

Drowsiness or confusion coma  

  Dislike of bright light  

  Rash of red-purple spots or bruises 


The symptoms of Meningitis are as follows:

In babies:

  • Fever which can be accompanied by coldness in the hands and feet
  • Refusing feeds or vomiting
  • High pitched moaning cry or whimpering
  • Dislike of being handled and fretful
  • Neck retraction with arching of back
  • Blank and staring expression
  • Child is difficult to wake or lethargic
  • Pale blotchy complexion

In children and adults:

  • Vomiting
  • High temperature and fever
  • Violent or severe headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Drowsiness and lethargy
  • Joint pains
  • Fainting

  What you should do

If you suspect someone you know has Meningitis or Meningococcal Septicemia, contact the doctor immediately. Describe the symptoms carefully and ask for advice. If your doctor is not available, go straight to the nearest casualty department. Prompt action is vital.

Haemophilus Influenza Type B (HIB)
Homophiles Influenza Type B (HIB) disease is a serious bacterial disease and a major public health concern. Each year (according to WHO reports) an estimated 3 million plus cases of HIB disease and some 700,000 HIB-related deaths occur worldwide. The killing fields of HIB disease are primarily in developing countries; HIB’s victims are mainly young children under five years of age. HIB virtually disappears from countries where all children are immunized.

  • HIB bacteria is an important cause of childhood Meningitis (inflammation of the covering of the brain) and is a major cause of bacterial pneumonia in children. Even though "influenza" is part of its name, HIB does not cause the "flu."

  • HIB can be more dangerous than most other childhood diseases especially to children under five years of age. The most serious HIB disease occurs in children between six and twelve months of age.

  • HIB is a bacteria that normally establishes itself in the nose or upper throat. It is spread through sneezing, coughing, or speaking closely with an infected person. Children often carry the HIB bacteria without showing any signs or symptoms, but they still can infect others.

  • Before HIB vaccine virtually eliminated this disease in the United States, 1 of every 200 children in the United States was made ill by the disease. We do not know enough about the impact of HIB on children in the developing countries and further disease burden studies need to be done. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that HIB causes 3 million cases of serious disease, and 400,000 to 700,000 childhood deaths each year.

HIB Vaccines

  • Several HIB conjugate vaccines have been licensed. All have shown excellent protective efficacy in early infancy with virtually no side-effects (except occasional, temporary redness or swelling at the injection site). To reduce the number of injections, HIB vaccine is sometimes given in combination with Diphtheria/Tetanus/Pertussis (DTP) vaccine.

  • HIB is one of the safest of all vaccines.

  • HIB vaccines are routinely used in childhood immunization programs in 34 countries or territories including Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and many countries in Western Europe. Since the vaccine was introduced, HIB disease has virtually disappeared from most of these countries.

  • Depending on the HIB vaccine selected, children as young as six weeks can be safely immunized against HIB disease.

  • HIB vaccines have not been used extensively in the developing countries. When tested in several developing countries, including Chile, Uruguay, and the Gambia, the vaccine has proven to be as effective as in the United States. However, further disease burden and vaccine efficacy studies need to be undertaken especially in Asia, Africa, and the newly independent states of Eastern Europe.

  • The WHO Global Program for Vaccines and Immunization makes the following recommendation: "In view of the demonstrated safety and efficacy of the HIB conjugate vaccine, HIB vaccine should be included…in routine infant immunization programs."

  • A recent assessment by WHO's Children's Vaccine Initiative suggests that inclusion of HIB vaccine into childhood immunization schedules will be cost-effective even in the lowest income strata.


The risk of contracting Meningitis or Meningococcal Septicemia is very small even if you have been in contact with someone who has developed the infection. 

The bacteria which cause Meningitis and Septicemia 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 Septicemia 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 Septicemia because most of us have natural resistance to the bacteria.  

Although Meningitis and Meningococcal Septicemia are  not common diseases, but they are very dangerous and can develop rapidly. Therefore, it is vital that everyone knows the signs and symptoms to watch out for.

A vaccine against this disease is also given to all pilgrims going to Mecca for prevention reasons.


If bacterial Meningitis is diagnosed early and treated promptly, most people will make a complete recovery. It is a rare disease but it can be very serious and requires urgent treatment with antibiotics.

Viral Meningitis is generally more common but less serious and cannot be helped by antibiotic treatment.