HEADACHE, confusion, nausea and a sensitivity to light.
If you wake up with these symptoms after enjoying a few drinks the night before, you might chalk them up to a hangover.
But they could be caused by a more sinister illness that – according to leading disease experts – can be easy to mistake for the lingering effects of a big night out or the flu.
Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, which can be very serious if not treated quickly, killing some of its victims within 24 hours.
It can affect anyone, but it's most common in babies, young children, teenagers and young adults.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) recently warned that students could be especially vulnerable to this preventable infection, with recent vaccine coverage data showing that around one in eight of those going to college and university this year are unprotected against four deadly types of meningitis.
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Claire Wright, Head of Insights and Policy at Meningitis Research Foundation, said: "Meningitis can kill healthy people within hours and in the early stages is difficult to distinguish from a bad hangover or more common milder illnesses."
And with many indulging in a few drinks to usher in the start of classes, students run the risk of not seeking help for the sometimes deadly infection until it's too late.
Meningitis Now CEO, Dr Tom Nutt, told Sun Health: “We estimate that up to half a million young people currently aged between 18 to 24 years old may have missed their MenACWY vaccine at school.
"In addition, we are growing increasingly concerned about the recent rise in meningitis cases across the UK. While the number of cases is still below those recorded pre-pandemic, any increase in the disease is worrying.
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“With no vaccine available to protect against all types of meningitis, we urge everyone to learn the signs and symptoms and to seek urgent medical attention if meningitis is suspected.”
According to the charity, certain bacteria that increase the risk of meningitis in teenagers and young people.
These are called meningococcal A, B, C, W and Y and they can cause meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning), which can kill within hours.
Even those who survive can be left with life-changing after-effects,such as hearing loss, brain injury and even limb loss.
The early signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia can be similar to flu, a tummy bug or a hangover, Meningitis Now told Sun Health.
- muscle pain
- stomach cramps
- fever with cold hands and feet
More specific signs and symptoms include:
- pale blotchy skin
- stiff neck
- dislike of bright lights
- a rash which doesn’t fade under pressure
You'll be able to tell it's a meningitis rash if it's doesn't fade when you press the side of a clear glass firmly against the skin.
Bear in mind that it might be harder to see on brown or black skin, so it's important to check the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, roof of the mouth, tummy, whites of the eyes or the inside of the eyelids, according to NHS guidance.
But Meningitis Now stressed that you shouldn't wait for a rash to appear before seeking help, explaining that symptoms can appear in any order.
"Some may not appear at all, including the rash which many people associate with meningitis," the charity noted.
"Do not wait for the rash, trust your instincts, and seek medical help if you or a friend is ill and getting worse."
It added: "Meningitis is a terrible and devastating disease that can kill within 24 hours," urging anyone up to the age of 25 who isn't protected against it to claim their free NHS MenACWY jab.
"Vaccines save lives."
The jab protects against four types of meningitis and is offered to most children at school.
As for what students should do if they feel ill while at uni, the charity urged them to call a GP or NHS 111 straight away, even if they think their symptoms are caused by the flu, coronavirus or even a hangover, as it could be meningitis.
"Meningitis is a medical emergency, so it's vital you act fast and seek urgent medical assistance to make sure," it went on.
Meningitis Now also urged parents or carers to check their children were up to date with their meningitis vaccinations before starting university or college, as the risk of passing bacteria between each other increases due to close living quarters and meeting lots of new people.
As Dr Shamez Ladhani, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA, put it: "Every year we see new and returning students get seriously ill, with some tragically dying, from what are preventable diseases.
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"With large numbers of students coming together from around the country and overseas for the first time, and closely mixing, infection can spread easily.
"Ensuring you are protected against these deadly bugs is vital."
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