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When the bacteria infect the meninges, the blood vessels in the lining of the brain are damaged. This allows the bacteria to break through and infect the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the meninges become inflamed and pressure around the brain can cause nerve damage.
A severe infection of the blood. Bacteria multiply in the blood, releasing endotoxins that cause widespread damage to the body. The toxins in the blood damage vessels and stop the vital flow of oxygen to the organs including the skin and underlying tissues. After-effects include areas of scarring, loss of digits or limbs and organ damage.
Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacterium called the meningococcus. There are five main groups that commonly cause disease – A, B, C, W135 and Y. Group B causes the majority of disease in the UK. Around 10% of the population carry the meningococcal bacteria in the back of their throats at any given time. This is healthy carriage, and should help develop immunity. The bacteria are passed from person to person by coughing, sneezing and intimate kissing.
Occasionally the bacteria defeat the body’s defences and cause infection. The bacteria break through the lining at the back of the throat and pass into the bloodstream. They can travel in the bloodstream to infect the meninges, causing meningitis, or while in the bloodstream they can cause septicaemia.
Meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia need urgent treatment with antibiotics and rapid admission to hospital. If treated promptly, meningitis and septicaemia are less likely to become life-threatening. For more information on this, visit our section on the treatment of meningitis.
Some groups of meningococcal disease can be prevented with vaccines. Vaccines are the only way to prevent infectious illnesses such as meningococcal disease. There is still no vaccine to protect against meningococcal group B infection, the most common bacterial form of meningitis in the UK.
You can download our fact sheet for more information on meningococcal disease. Or you can call speak to experienced staff on our freephone helpline, available 24-hours a day: 0808 80 10 388, or email us at email@example.com and we will come back to you as soon as we can.
We are here to support anyone affected by meningitis. We have a range of free, professional support services, available for life.
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