Up to 34 million people in the UK are risking death with the mistaken belief that the main symptom of meningitis is a rash.

As the country finds itself in the peak season for this devastating disease, national charity the Meningitis Trust, is campaigning to stop this deadly misconception.

More than 70 per cent of people immediately think of a rash when identifying meningitis. Believing the rash is the only symptom will cost lives the charity says; as the rash that does not fade under pressure (a sign of blood poisoning) will not always appear. If it does it can be one of the last symptoms to be displayed, often too late.

The Trust’s campaign is being supported by Helen Hunt from Shepton Mallet. Helen’s daughter Jasmine contracted meningococcal meningitis in October 2007 just before her second birthday.

Despite being very ill, she recovered well but the diagnosis was nearly missed. Helen said: “I wish I had trusted my parental instincts and made the paramedic take us to hospital the night before. Warning bells were ringing but meningitis is a bit like a lightning strike, you never think it will happen to you.”

Sue Davie, chief executive of the Trust, said: “By thinking meningitis is just a rash people are risking their own and their loved ones lives. You don’t get a second chance with meningitis so identifying it correctly is vital.

“It is important to know and recognise the other signs and symptoms and get medical help immediately. Symptoms can appear quickly and rapid deterioration is a sign of a medical emergency.”

Meningitis can start with ‘flu like’ symptoms. Those to look out for are a fever, headache, vomiting and muscle pain. Other symptoms can include drowsiness, confusion, pale blotchy skin, stiff neck, dislike of bright lights and seizures. In babies, symptoms can include being floppy and unresponsive, dislike of being handled, rapid breathing, a moaning cry and a bulging fontanelle (soft spot on the top of the head).

The Trust is urging everyone to make themselves aware of all the symptoms. You can download one of its free smart phone apps at www.meningitisapp.co.uk, visit www.meningitis-trust.org for information or call its freephone 24-hour nurse-led helpline on 0808 80 10 388 to request a free signs and symptoms card.