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What is meningitis? The illness Jeff Beck contracted before his death

Dr Tom Nutt said Beck’s sudden death was a reminder about the ‘devastating’ disease.
Dr Tom Nutt said Beck’s sudden death was a reminder about the ‘devastating’ disease.

Rock veteran and Grammy-winning guitarist Jeff Beck died aged 78 after “suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis”, his family announced on Wednesday.

A statement posted to Twitter and Instagram read: “On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of Jeff Beck’s passing.

“After suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, he peacefully passed away yesterday. His family ask for privacy while they process this tremendous loss.”

The chief executive of charity Meningitis Now, Dr Tom Nutt, said the shock news was a reminder about the “devastating” disease and its ability to affect any age group.

“We would encourage everyone to ensure that they are aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis and to have the confidence to act fast and seek medical help should they believe they may be becoming ill,” he said.

Here is what you need to know about meningitis.

– What is meningitis and what causes it?

Meningitis is the swelling of the meninges, the lining around the brain and spinal cord, and is caused by germs. It is a serious, life-threatening illness and can kill in hours, but it has different causes and levels of severity.

Bacterial meningitis – the kind that Beck contracted – is usually the most serious form, according to the Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF).

Viral meningitis is “almost never life-threatening”, while the third kind – fungal meningitis – is serious but very rare in the UK and Ireland. It tends to only affect people with weakened immune systems.

In addition, meningitis can cause or occur at the same time as septicaemia, a kind of blood poisoning caused by infection.

– What are the symptoms?

Meningitis Now says there are many common signs and symptoms in adults: fever, cold hands and feet, vomiting, drowsiness, confusion and irritability, severe muscle pain, pale and blotchy skin, spots and rashes, headaches, stiff neck, dislike of bright lights and seizures/convulsions.

But the charity says early symptoms can include a fever, headache, vomiting, muscle pain and a fever with cold hands and feet.

Additionally, a baby or child under five, an age group particularly vulnerable to the disease, may refuse food, dislike being handled, display unusual cries and moans, and have a tense, bulging soft spot.

Jeff Beck death
Rock veteran and Grammy-winning guitarist Jeff Beck died aged 78 after ‘suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis’ (Yui Mok/PA)

A rash that does not fade under pressure can be a sign of meningitis and septicaemia . Meningitis Now suggests using a “glass test” if a rash is suspected a symptom:

– Press the side of a clear glass firmly against the skin.

– Spots/rash may fade at first, keep checking.

A fever with spots or a rash that does not fade under pressure is a medical emergency.

– How is it prevented and treated?

Vaccines are available to protect against some of the common bacteria and viruses that cause meningitis – such as meningococcal and measles, mumps and rubella.

But not all causes are vaccine preventable, and treatment will depend on what germs have caused the infection, according to the MRF.

Meningitis caused by bacteria requires urgent treatment with antibiotics.

– Who does it affect?

Meningitis can affect all age groups, despite young children and babies being particularly vulnerable. The risk also increases in older adults.

A study carried out for Meningitis Now revealed that 96% of people aged over 65 do not consider themselves to be at risk from meningitis and septicaemia, despite the risk of meningitis increasing in older adults.

Dr Nutt said: “Jeff’s passing serves as reminder that meningitis is not just a disease that affects infants and adolescents; it can affect anyone at any age.”