Meningitis first signs as freshers warned not to confuse viral infection with hangover

A-Level results are out of the way and many students are headed off to university, which promises new challenges and loads of fun.

As students prepare to take on Freshers Week 2022, the United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has issued a warning over a potentially deadly illness that might be lying in wait.

Meningitis, which is described by the NHS as an “infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord”, is a viral disease particularly common among first-year university students.

It can be easily mistaken for a hangover, which many are likely to be experiencing during freshers week.

However, unlike a hangover, meningitis can be deadly if not treated quickly. Here are the symptoms of meningitis you need to look out for.

Symptoms of meningitis

The main symptoms of meningitis are:

• High temperature
• Being sick
• Headache
• Rashes
• Stiff neck
• Dislike of bright lights
• Drowsiness and unresponsiveness
• Seizures

UKSHA doctor Dr Shamez Ladhani warned: “We know that colleges and universities can be hotspots for the spread of diseases such as meningitis and measles. At the top of any list of essential things to get for college should be any missed vaccines – it could save your life.”

He added that students shouldn’t assume that it’s just a hangover or a case of the freshers’ flu, and that they should make sure they are up to date with the MenACWY, MMR and HPV vaccinations before term starts.

Complications from meningitis
While the majority of patients withmeningitis will recover with urgent treatment, in some cases the infection can be fatal.

One in ten cases of bacterial meningitis results in death, the NHS warns, and of those who survive, up to half will suffer from permanent side effects from hearing loss, vision loss and problems with their memory.

Others may develop epilepsy, may have to have their limbs amputated to stop the spread of infection, could have kidney problems and issues with their coordination and balance.

Other complications include bone and joint issues like arthritis and learning difficulties.

Complications are rarer with the viral type of meningitis compared with the bacterial strain.

Meningitis glass test

Dr Shamez Ladhani advised that students who don’t feel well should “make sure a friend knows and to stay in touch regularly with friends who are ill”.

Meningitis can progress quickly, so urgent medical attention is very important, with Dr Ladhani adding: “Call NHS 111 straight away.”

If you find a rash that looks like tiny red pin pricks or purple bruising, you can do the m eningitis glass test to check whether you’ve developed meningococcal septicaemia, which is extremely dangerous.

Take a clear glass and press it firmly against the skin. The spots may fade to start with but keep checking. If the rash doesn’t fade under pressure, get yourself or the patient immediate medical help.

The rash may be harder to see on darker skin tones, so check the person’s roof of the mouth, palms, soles and inside their eyelids to see if they have spots.

Meningitis vaccine
It’s also important to get the meningitis ACWY vaccine, which is offered to school leavers and university freshers.

The single dose vaccination is given to the upper arm and protects against four strains of meningitis.

Much like other vaccines, the ACWY might cause side effects like:

• Redness, hardening, and itching around the area where the vaccine was injected
• High temperature
• Headache
• Nausea
• Tiredness.

Though the side effects may be uncomfortable, it’s always better to get the jab as symptoms and potential consequences of meningitis might be much worse.