PARENTS are urged to be vigilant for the signs of meningitis as their children return to school – even if their youngsters have been vaccinated against the deadly disease.
Meningitis UK says the close confines of the classroom provide the perfect breeding ground for germs.
The disease kills more under-fives than any other infectious disease, and pupils and teenagers are also more vulnerable.
Meningitis can often leave survivors with severe after-effects including brain damage, sight and hearing loss, limb loss and scarring.
The charity stresses 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.
Although vaccines exist against forms including Hib, Meningitis C and pneumococcal meningitis, children are still at risk from this disease, which can kill in under four hours.
Parents should watch their children for symptoms such as a headache, stiff neck, dislike of bright light, a difficulty supporting bodyweight, fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, confusion and drowsiness.
Meningitis can also cause blood poisoning known as septicaemia, which has symptoms including aching limbs, cold hands and feet, and a rash.
As well as ensuring their children have been vaccinated, the charity is also asking parents to make sure their youngsters receive booster shots to reduce the risk of infection.
Meningitis UK founder, Steve Dayman, who launched the charity after losing his 14-month-old son Spencer to meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia in 1982, 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.
“Many parents wrongly believe their child is fully protected from meningitis, which could prove fatal.
“We’re urging them to know the facts and be extra vigilant as their children return to the crowded school environment.
“Meningitis and septicaemia can be hard to recognise in the early stages because the initial symptoms are similar to many mild childhood diseases.
“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, please call 0117 947 6320 or visit www.meningitisUK.org.