Monday, December 7, 1998 Published at 23:52 GMT
Helpline for meningitis
The line will provide expert advice at no cost
A meningitis charity has launched a free helpline to provide round-the-clock advice about the potentially-lethal disease.
The Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) free phone service will be operated by trained staff and nurses giving expert advice to those who are worried about someone they suspect may have meningitis and the related disease septicaemia.
They will also be able to give general information to the public and health professionals.
December and January usually see an increase in the number of cases of meningitis.
The MRF's 24-Hour Helpline already takes in excess of 10,000 calls a year and the free phone number will now allow callers to obtain information at no cost to themselves.
Meningitis cases have been increasing in the UK since the mid-1990s.
There were more reported cases in 1997 than any other year since the Second World War.
The MRF has produced a Symptoms Chart leaflet that opens up into a mini-poster. The leaflet is available free by contacting the Helpline.
The common signs of meningitis may include severe headache, stiff neck, dislike of bright lights and drowsiness.
The bacteria that cause meningitis also cause septicaemia, a blood poisoning form of the disease and the more life-threatening.
Symptoms of septicaemia include fever, vomiting, cold hands and feet, rapid breathing, aches and pains in muscles and joints, diarrhoea and a red pin-prick rash.
The rash may go on to develop into purple bruise-like marks. Initial signs mirror flu-like symptoms but a person's condition will deteriorate very rapidly.
The free phone number is 0808 800 3344.