The first full week in May (6th – 12th) is Viral Meningitis Awareness Week. It’s run by the charity, Meningitis Now, as an annual event aimed at “stopping lives being lost through meningitis and to make sure that sufferers and survivors get appropriate support.”

As children under 5 are most at risk of developing meningitis, we think it’s important that all pre-schools are informed about the disease, its causes, symptoms and treatments. Most importantly, all early years professionals should know what to do if they suspect a child is suffering with meningitis.

Take our meningitis quiz to see how much you know about the disease and then read on to find out more information and advice. (Answers at the end of the article).

1. Meningitis is a disease which causes inflammation of the:

a.   Meniscus
b.   Meninges
c.   Metatarsals

2. In the UK, meningitis is most often caused by:

a.   Bacteria
b.   Viruses
c.   Fungi


3. What percentage of people contracting bacterial meningitis may die (approximately)?

a.   5%
b.   10%
c.   15%

4. Babies and young children are at particular risk of meningitis due to their:

a.   Immature immune systems
b.   Milk teeth
c.   Developing DNA

5. Septicaemia can occur with meningitis and cause a rash, which can be identified by:

a.   A urine test
b.   Counting the spots in a specified area
c.   Pressing a glass onto the skin to see if the rash disappears under pressure


6. The most common types of bacterial meningitis can be prevented by:

a.   Vaccination
b.   Gene therapy
c.   Pre-natal diet

7. Which of the following does NOT put you at increased risk to meningitis?

a.   The seasons
b.   Smoking
c.   Body mass index (BMI)

8. Which of the following are symptoms of meningitis?

a.   Vomiting
b.   Dislike of bright lights
c.   Blank, staring or vacant look

9. You always get a rash with meningitis:

a.   True
b.   False


10. There is no treatment for viral meningitis, but what might help with recovery?

a.   Painkillers
b.   Injectable antibiotics
c.   Insulin therapy

11. Which of the following can be long-term effects of meningitis?

a.   Acquired brain injury
b.   Learning and behaviour changes
c.   Weight gain

12. What should you do if you suspect a child of having meningitis?

a.   Confine the child to bed until the symptoms dissipate
b.   Make an appointment to see your local GP
c.   Take them to hospital or dial 999

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is a serious illness that has the potential to cause death or disability within hours. It is the inflammation of of the meninges, which are the protective membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord, but can also lead to life-threatening blood poisoning (known as septicaemia) which in fact, is the cause of a rash often associated with the bacterial form of meningitis.

Meningitis can be caused by a number of different factors including bacteria, viruses and fungi and each type has a different prognosis. The most fatal is bacterial meningitis which can have devastating effects for survivors including acquired brain injury, seizures, learning difficulties, deafness and physical disability.

Viral meningitis is the most common form and is usually less severe than the bacterial form as most patients recover without any permanent damage, although full recovery can take many weeks or months. There is no treatment for viral meningitis, but painkillers and rest can help.

Who is at risk?

Children under 5 are most at risk. The second most at-risk group for meningitis is teenagers and young people, with first-year university students being particularly vulnerable. However, it can strike anyone, at any age and there are thousands of cases in the UK each year.

Symptoms of meningitis

The following have been identified as common symptoms of meningitis, but this is not an exhaustive list:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38˚C (100.4˚F) or above
  • cold hands and feet, shivering
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • diarrhoea
  • irritability
  • rash that does not fade when a glass is rolled over it (but this will not always develop)
  • stiff neck
  • blank, staring or vacant look
  • dislike of bright lights
  • drowsiness or unresponsiveness
  • fits (seizures)

Symptoms can appear in any order and sufferers do not always get all the symptoms. If in doubt, you should contact A&E or call 999.

Prevention and treatment

Prevention is always better than cure and there are several vaccinations available that offer protection against meningitis. These are usually administered to infants although other ‘catch-up’ and teenager/adult programmes also exist. No vaccine is 100% effective but vaccinations have been shown to reduce meningitis incidence rates and one of the aims of meningitis charities is often to raise the vaccination rates, especially in children.

Treatment for bacterial meningitis requires hospitalisation, intravenous antibiotics and fluids. Viral meningitis is usually treated with pain killers and rest, although antibiotics may be given in certain cases to rule out bacterial meningitis or secondary infections.

Meningitis Aware Recognition Mark (MARM) for childcare providers

Meningitis Now have launched the MARM toolkit to help nurseries, pre-schools and childminders learn more and inform their staff and parents about meningitis.

To achieve this recognition mark, providers need to register their interest on the MARM webpage and then download and complete a checklist, which includes actions to take on:

  • Raising awareness internally
  • Raising awareness externally
  • Planning ahead

This will confirm that the setting has demonstrated their awareness of meningitis, the issues surrounding it, and the actions they have taken. There are a lot of free resources available on the website to help you including PowerPoint presentations, information sheets, helpline numbers and videos. You can access these after you register your interest.

To find out more about the condition, or to see how you can help, visit:


Answers: 1b, 2ab, 3b, 4a, 5c, 6a, 7c, 8abc, 9false, 10a, 11ab, 12c.

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