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Back To Vidyya Meningitis C, Reduce the Risk:

The DHS Guide To The New Meningitis C Vaccine


This report provides information about the UK government's new meningitis C vaccine and how to recognize the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicemia.

All of the following information on this page is taken from the a leaflet: Meningitis C, Reduce the Risk, Your guide to the new meningitis C vaccine. This publications is being translated into 14 languages which will shortly be available to download.

The information campaign includes a factsheet for health professionals about meningitis C and the new vaccine. The factsheet is written for health professionals and contains further information about the vaccine and is fully referenced. You can download the factsheet and print it out.

What is meningitis?

The facts
The new vaccine
Who will get it and when?
Signs and symptoms
The Glass Test

What is meningitis?

  • Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can develp very rapidly. In young children the earliest symptoms are often hard to recognise, with flu-like illness leading to vomiting, fever, irritability, a high-pitched cry and refusing feeds. Most people recover from the disease, but some are left deaf or blind and it can kill.
  • Red or purple bruise-like spots that do not fade under pressure may mean that septicaemia (blood poisoning) is also present. This blood infection often accompanies meningitis and progress quickly to coma and death.
  • Meningitis can be caused by a number of different types of viruses or bacteria. Meningoccocal group B and C are two types of bacteria that cause a high numebr of cases of meningitis in the UK. Group B is the commonest, but group C causes more deaths. These bacteria can cause meningitis or septicaemia or both at once.

The new vaccine protects against group C meningitis and septicaemia. No one has yet been able to develop a vaccine against group B that would protect against the disease in the UK.

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The facts

How common are meningitis and septicaemia?
  • Meningitis and septicaemia are not very common, but they are very serious.
  • They are the commonest cause of death among children aged one to five and the most common infectious disease causing death in children and young people.
  • Last year there were around 1530 cases of group C meningitis and septicaemia in the UK. Around 150 of these people died.
Who is at greatest risk?
  • Meningitis C is most common in babies.
  • Young people aged 15 to 17 are the next highest risk group. The risk of dying or having complications is highest in this older group.
How is it spread?
  • Meningoccocal bacteria can be spread by coughing, sneezing or direct contact such as kissing.
  • The bacteria live naturally in the throats or noses of about 1 in 10 poeple without causing any illness. The figure can be even higher among young people - nearly 25%.
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The new vaccine

What does it protect against?
  • The new vaccine protects against group C meningitis and septicaemia. The new vaccine will not protect against other causes of meningitis and septicaemia.
How is the vaccine made?
  • The new vaccine is made from a small part of the meningoccocal bacteria. It is made in the same way as the Hib meningitis vaccine that has been given routinely to babies since 1992. Hib vaccine is very safe and nearly wiped out Hib meningitis in this country.
How does it work?
  • The vaccine caises the immune system to produce antibodies to protect against group C meningoccocal disease. If an immunised person comes into contact with the real bacteria, the antibodies will provide protection.
Can you get meningitis or septicaemia from the vaccine?
  • No, the vaccine is not live and cannot give anyone meningitis or septicaemia.
How many doses will be needed for complete protection?
  • Babies aged two, three and four months will have doses with each of their DTP-Hib and polio immunisations.
  • Babies aged over four months and up to one year will have two doses at least one month apart.
  • Children over one year and adults need only one dose.
Is the new vaccine safe and effective?
  • Although this is a new vaccine, it contains ingredients that are very similar to the Hib vaccine. It has been thoroughly tested in children of all ages and provides good protection with very few side effects (for side effects see the side effects section).
  • 60, 000 doses of the vaccine have already been given around the world.
  • The new vaccine has been tested carefully and has been proved to be safe.
Can the vaccine be given at the same time as other vaccines?
  • Yes, the new vaccine has been thoroughly tested and babies' and children's immune systems respond very well to this and other routine immunisations.
What are the side effects?
  • Some redness and swelling where the injection is given.

(over 12 months)

  • Some redness and swelling where the injection is given.
  • One in four toddlers may have disturbed sleep.
  • One in 20 toddlers may have a mild fever.
Pre-school children
  • About one in 20 may have swelling where the injection is given.
  • About one in 50 may have a mild fever within a few days of vaccination.
Children and young people
  • About one in four may have swelling or redness where the injection is given.
  • About one in 50 may have a mild temperature.
  • About one in 100 may have a very sore arm from the injection which may last a day or so.


Are there any reasons why the new vaccine should not be given?

There are very few medical reasons why the immunisation shouldn't be given.
They include:

  • a high fever on the day of the injection;
  • a severe allergic reaction to a previous immunisation - please check with your doctor or nurse;
  • young women who think they may be pregnant. Please check with your doctor or nurse.

The vaccine may not be fully effective in someone with a serious condition of their immune system.

Ask your doctor or nurse if you are not sure whether you should have the immunisation.

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Who will get the new vaccine and when?

Starting in Autumn 1999, the new immunisation will be given to children aged 2, 3 and 4 months and around 13 months with their routine immunisations. Extra appointments will be organised where necessary. Depending on their age, all other children will be invited through their GP, school or college to have the vaccine in a special catch up programme. (See the table below.)

When will the vaccine be available?

Where will the vaccine
be given?

Given to babies at 2, 3 and 4 months At the surgery or health clinic at the time of the DTP-Hib, polio appointment.
Given to toddlers at 13-15 months
At the surgery or health clinic, at the MMR appointment.
Given to young people aged 15, 16 and 17 years At the school or college, please wait to be called.
Given to babies over 4 months and under 12 months At the surgery or health clinic - special appointments will be arranged. Please wait to be called.
Given to children aged 1 to 4 years At the surgery or health clinic - special appointments will be arranged. Please wait to be called.
Given to children aged 5 to 14 years At school. Please wait to be called

How will I know when to get the new vaccine?

  • You will be sent an appointment by post. If you cannot make the appointment time shown, please ring and make a new appointment.
  • School-aged children will be immunised at school or college. The school or college will contact you before the immunisation is due.

Please wait until you are contacted.

Why will people get the new immunisation at different times?

  • The immunisation will be given first to those at greatest risk - babies and young people, as shown in the timetable above.
  • Because this is a new vaccine stocks cannot be built up in advance. The NHS wants to protect people as soon as possible, so doses will be given as soon as they are available.
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What are the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia?

The biggest problem is that most of the early symptoms of infection can be mild and similar to those you get with flu, for example:

  • being sick;
  • feeling feverish;
  • pain in the back or joints;
  • a severe headache; and
  • a stiff neck.

But get medical help immediately if someone has the following:

  • a severe dislike of light;
  • disorientation;
  • a bruise-like rash that doesn't fade under pressure (do the Glass Test - see below);
  • reduced awareness which can lead to a coma.
What should you do if you think someone has meningitis or septicaemia?
  • If you or someone you know is ill and is getting worse and you think they might have meningitis or septicaemia, trust your instincts. Contact your GP or go to the nearest accident and emergency department immediately.

  • People who doctors think may have meningitis or septicaemia are given antiiotics straight away and have to stay in hospital. The earlier they are treated, the better the chances are of making a full recovery.
How to recognise meningitis or septicaemia

In babies look out for one or more of these symptoms:

  • A high fever.
  • A high-pitched, moaning cry.
  • Difficult to wake.
  • Refusal to eat.
  • Pale or blotchy skin.
  • Red or purple bruise-loke spots that do not fade under pressure. (See the Glass Test below.)

In older children look out for one or more of these syptoms:

  • A high fever.
  • Stiffness in the neck - can the child kiss his or her knee?
  • Drowsiness or confusion.
  • A severe headsche.
  • A dislike of bright light.
  • Red or purple bruise-like spots that do not fade under pressure. (See the Glass Test below.)

The disease can develop very quickly - sometimes in a matter of hours. If you recognise the signs early and get help urgently you can save lives.

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How to do the Glass Test

This test is very simple. If you press a clear glass firmly against the bruise-like rash, you can see if the rash fades. If the rash doesn't fade contact your doctor immediately.

Picture courtesy of the Meningitis Research Foundation.

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Please remember that everyone will be called for immunisation when their turn comes. You will be contacted with an appointment either from your doctor or from the school or college.

  • If you receive an appointment and want more information about meningitis or septicaemia, speak to your GP, practice nurse or school nurse.
  • Or, you can call the Health Information Service (freefone) on 0800 66 55 44 weekdays between 10am and 4pm. The Health Information Service is a national freephone network providing confidential information about health-related issues and local services.

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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