Health at university: what is Meningitis and how do we prevent it?

Students at university are particularly vulnerable to certain illnesses as a result of possible poor diet, lack of exercise or poor living conditions.
Despite this, for the most part, many students will suffer a bout of freshers’ flu and/or food poisoning and thankfully won’t experience anything much more serious. Regardless, there are many conditions that it is worthwhile being aware of, even though you might not necessarily ever encounter them; meningitis is one of these.
Meningitis can appear as a common cold or flu, and hence can be dangerous to students because it mimics other more trivial conditions. It can affect anyone, but is particularly important for students to be aware of because of the sheer amount of people you meet each day that could be carriers of bacteria, especially as a fresher.
It is described by NHS advice as an “infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (meninges)”, and can be very serious as it can cause septicaemia and permanent damage to the central nervous system.
It can most often be indicated by a dislike of bright lights and a rash that does not fade when pressed or with a small glass rolled over it. Other signs of meningitis can also be a stiff neck, drowsiness, and feeling feverish – a high temperature and being physically sick are not uncommon.
As with many illnesses, symptoms can vary and if you have any or multiple of these symptoms, it’s worth seeking medical advice via ringing 111 or visiting your GP to be on the safe side.
Meningitis can be both a viral and bacterial infection, and so can be spread from sneezing, coughing, kissing or sharing items such as cutlery. As such, it is good practice to maintain good hygiene practices and wash hands thoroughly, as well as limiting the spread of any illness that you may have caught.
You can prevent catching infections such as meningitis through vaccination, and university students and school leavers are encouraged by the NHS at the moment to have the meningitis ACWY vaccine, to protect against contagion. If you do suspect that you have symptoms of meningitis, seek immediate medical attention.
Nearly all cases of meningitis are treated successfully in hospital, but it can become serious if not addressed, so it is worthwhile being aware of it as an illness and how to recognise it if you came across it.
For more information, visit your GP or look at resources online such as:
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Meningitis/.
Image: Angelo Esslinger via Pixabay

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