PARENTS and students are being warned to be vigilant for the signs of meningitis when back at school, college or university.
National charity Meningitis UK says the close confines of the classroom provide the perfect breeding ground for germs and meningitis kills more under-fives than any other infectious disease.
Older children and young people are also more vulnerable and survivors are often left with brain damage, sight and hearing loss, limb loss and scarring.
Last year, University of Sunderland student Christopher McKee, 21, died after contracting a severe strain of bacterial meningitis.
The popular sports journalism student, from Ireland, was found by flatmates at The Forge university accommodation they shared.
Meningitis UK is stressing the importance of knowing the symptoms as there is no vaccine to protect against all forms of the disease, including the most common form – meningitis B.
However, vaccines exist against some forms, including Hib, Meningitis C and pneumococcal meningitis and parents are urged to make sure their children have these.
Faisal Al Durrah, public health consultant at NHS South of Tyne and Wear, which serves Sunderland, said: “We would urge parents to make sure their children get all the immunisations offered under the Childhood Vaccination programme to ensure they are protected against serious conditions such as meningitis.
“Meningitis is an infection which can be caused by bacteria or a virus and can damage the nerves and brain.
“Some groups of people need to protect themselves from meningitis with a vaccination because they have a higher risk of an infection developing into a serious health condition including children and adults with long-term health conditions.”
Meningitis UK founder, Steve Dayman, who lost his 14-month-old son to the illness, said: “It’s vital that parents trust their instincts and seek medical advice immediately if they suspect meningitis. In the absence of a vaccine against all forms of meningitis, this could mean the difference between life and death.
“We’re urging them to know the facts and be extra vigilant as their children return to the crowded school environment.
“A child with bacterial meningitis or septicaemia will usually get ill quickly and can deteriorate fast, so parents should check their children often.”
Meningitis UK’s main focus is to develop a vaccine to protect against all forms of meningitis and associated diseases.
For more information on Meningitis UK or for a free symptoms pack, visit www.meningitisUK.org.