THE Public Health Agency (PHA) is calling for people to make themselves aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis, with the prevalence of this potentially life-threatening illness at its highest during the winter.Dr Richard Smithson, Consultant in Health Protection, PHA, explained: “Meningitis can occur at any time of year, but is seen most frequently in the winter. It is a serious disease, so it is vital everyone becomes more vigilant of the signs and symptoms to be able to detect the disease earlier, to allow early intervention. “The symptoms are often non-specific. In the early stages it could be mistaken for other illnesses such as flu, although with meningitis the person tends to be sicker than with these other conditions. However, the disease can come on very quickly and it is important to seek urgent medical attention if you think meningitis is a possibility.” Meningitis is most commonly caused by the meningococcus bacterium, and causes inflammation of the brain lining and/ or septicaemia (blood poisoning). It can occur at any age but is more common in young children under four years of age and in the late teenage years. Early symptoms of the disease may include: * sudden onset of high fever; * a severe and worsening headache without any other obvious cause; * severe neck stiffness; * dislike of bright lights; * very cold hands and feet; * drowsiness that can deteriorate so someone is difficult to wake or may even be unconscious; * a rash that does not fade when pressed with a glass (this is due to bleeding under the skin). Babies with meningococcal disease tend to be irritable when picked up and have a high pitched cry, stiff body and jerking movements. “A very important sign is a rash that does not disappear if a glass is pressed against it. If someone develops this, they need urgent medical attention. It can appear anywhere on the body so it is important to check under clothing. However, a rash doesn’t always appear when someone has meningitis, so don’t wait for a rash before seeking medical attention if other signs are present,” concluded Dr Smithson. Further information can be found at http://www.meningitis-trust.