World Cup winner Matt Dawson launches meningitis campaign - but what are the symptoms?

Matt Dawson's son Sami, left, contracted meningitis but subsequently recovered Credit: ITV News

Former England rugby star Matt Dawson is launching a new meningitis campaign to increase understanding of the rare but potentially fatal disease.

"Tackle Meningitis", an initiative by pharmaceutical company GSK, comes ahead of Meningitis Awareness Week, which gets under way on Monday.

The World Cup winner has first-hand experience of the disease after his two-year old son Sami contracted meningitis B in February and remained critically ill on a life-support machine for two weeks afterwards.

Sami subsequently recovered, but Dawson wants parents and families to receive the knowledge and education that he feels he lacked.

Over the past 20 years, between 500 and 1,700 people every year, mainly babies and young children, have suffered from meningitis B, with around one in 10 dying from the infection.

  • What is meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

The disease can affect anyone, but is more common among babies, young children and teenagers.

There are several strains of meningococcal bacteria but the most common form in the UK is 'group B', which is responsible for more than 90% of meningococcal infections in young children.

  • What are the symptoms?

Most people with viral meningitis have flu-like symptoms, and in more severe cases may experience neck stiffness, muscle or joint pain, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea and sensitivity to light.

Symptoms of meningitis include:

  • High fever with cold hands and feet

  • Vomiting

  • Headaches

  • Drowsiness

  • Stiff neck

  • Dislike of bright lights

  • Convulsions or seizures

  • A blotchy rash that does not fade when a glass is rolled over it (although not everybody develops this)

  • In babies it can result in being agitated and not wanting to be picked up

  • In older children, adults and teenagers, the symptoms can also include confusion and irritability, as well as severe muscle pain.

Sources: Meningitis Now and NHS Choices

The vaccine is being offered for babies born on or after 1 July 2015 Credit: PA
  • How can I protect my child from Meningitis B?

Since 1 September 2015, the NHS has offered a MenB vaccine to babies as part of the routine childhood vaccination programme.

The vaccine is being offered for babies born on or after 1 July 2015 alongside their other routine immunisations.

Babies born on or after 1 May will be offered the vaccine as part of a one off catch-up.

If your child was born before 1 May, they will not be offered the vaccination.

There is a petition for children up to the age of 11 to be vaccinated against meningitis B.

The Tackle Meningitis campaign is backed by UK charities the Meningitis Research Foundation and Meningitis Now.