Students are heading back to university and college this month as the new semester begins. 

With so many people coming together at once, sickness and viruses can spread quickly at the beginning of term. 

One to look out for is meningitis, especially if you haven't been vaccinated against it. 

It can be common within the student population, so here's everything you need to know about the illness and how it spreads.

How do you catch meningitis?

Meningitis is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. 

Viral meningitis is the most common and least serious, while bacterial meningitis is much more rare but can have very serious consequences. 

According to the NHS website, meningitis typically spreads by coughing, sneezing and kissing. 

This is because it is usually spread by those who carry the virus in their nose or throats but are not ill themselves. 

What are the symptoms of meningitis?

Meningitis can cause symptoms such as:

  • a high temperature
  • cold hands and feet
  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • breathing quickly
  • muscle and joint pain
  • pale, mottled or blotchy skin
  • spots or a rash
  • headache
  • a stiff neck
  • a dislike of bright lights
  • being very sleepy or difficult to wake
  • fits (seizures)

The infection can progress very rapidly, and in serious cases can have a life altering impact.

As a result, if you think you might have meningitis you should seek medical help quickly.

How can I protect myself against meningitis?

There are a number of vaccines which protect against meningitis, and children should receive most of these as part of the NHS vaccine schedule. 

The vaccine that is particularly advised to fresher students heading to university and college is the Meningitis ACWY vaccine. 

It offers protection against four types of bacteria which can cause meningitis and blood poisoning in the form of scepticaemia, which can be deadly if not treated quickly.

Most people receive it when they are around 14 in Scotland, and those who missed should be offered another chance to get the jab later on in their school careers. 

However, if you haven't had the jab and are heading to university, you can still get it at your GP surgery.