THE end of September sees the start of the peak season for bacterial meningitis – a deadly disease that can strike in minutes and kill within hours.
The risk of meningitis increases during the colder months as people spend more time indoors, closer to others; meaning germs are spread more easily.
And fighting common infections like colds and flu weakens our immune systems, leaving them more vulnerable to the disease.
Every year around 3,400 cases of meningitis are reported in the UK – leaving 10 per cent dead and 15 per cent of those who survive with severe aftereffects such as brain damage, loss of hearing and sight and, where septicaemia has occurred, loss of limbs and scarring.
It's a disease that can strike quickly and kill within hours, so knowledge of the signs and symptoms, remaining vigilant and taking quick action are vital to protect yourself, your family and your community. Awareness can and does save lives.
Babies and children under the age of five are most at risk of meningitis, with over half of all cases occurring in this age group.
However, it can affect anyone, of any age, at any time – even those who consider themselves "fit and healthy" may be left fighting for their life in a matter of hours.
Meningitis can be a difficult disease to spot – particularly at this time of year – as many of its early symptoms can be similar to those of flu.
I would urge everyone to familiarise themselves with the symptoms, trust their instincts and get urgent medical help if concerned.
Doing this could save your's or a loved one's life.
The symptoms of meningitis can include fever with cold hands and feet, vomiting, headache, stiff neck, dislike of bright light, joint or muscle pain, pale blotchy skin, drowsiness, confusion, convulsions and in babies, a dislike of being handled, an unusual cry, rapid breathing and a bulging fontanelle.
Both adults and children may also have a rash that does not fade under pressure.
Symptoms can appear in any order and some may not appear at all.
If someone is ill and getting worse, do not wait for a rash, seek urgent medical attention.
In the absence of vaccines for all strains of meningitis, knowing the symptoms is the best form of defence.
Visit the Meningitis Trust website Download the Meningitis App for more information or call the Meningitis Trust free, any time of the day or night, on 0808 80 10 388 and request our free credit-card sized symptoms card, or download our free symptoms apps.