Following the death of her boyfriend from meningitis, Sarah Jones has been campaigning to raise awareness of the dangers of the disease.

Miss Jones, from Burgess Hill, did not have time to see Noel Davies before his death because the infection developed so rapidly.

Like many people, he put his symptoms down to a cold and by the time he realised it was serious, it was already too late.

Miss Jones, 28, is now a volunteer for the Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) and is keen to get the message about the seriousness of the condition across.

A vaccination programme against meningitis C has been very successful across East and West Sussex.

Introduced in October 1999, more than 200,000 children between five and 17 have been vaccinated.

In West Sussex, there have been no reported cases of the disease in children since March 2000.

But health experts are warning that although the C-strain is under control, there is no vaccine against the B-strain and people still need to be aware of the dangers.

Lewes GP Michael Edwards said: "Children under five and young adults are most at risk but it is important for everyone to know the symptoms as this illness can strike at any time."

Signs of meningitis include flu-like symptoms headache, fever, aching joints and neck, an aversion to bright light and a red rash that does not disappear or fade when a glass is rolled across it.

The MRF is quick to stress the risk of getting the main type of meningitis or septicaemia is very small, even if a person has been in contact with someone who has the disease.

The bacteria which cause meningitis and septicaemia are very common and most people will carry them at some stage in their lives without developing any illness.

Most people have natural resistance to the bacteria which are very weak.

They can survive for only a short time outside the body so cannot live long in the air.

They are not carried on household objects such as clothes, furniture or toys.

This means a person has to be in very close contact with someone before the bacteria can pass between them.

But although meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia are not common diseases, once contracted, they are very dangerous and can develop rapidly.

Meningitis is the inflammation of the tissues which cover the brain and spinal cord. Most cases in the UK and Ireland are caused by bacteria.

Meningococcal septicaemia is a type of blood poisoning caused by the same bacteria that cause the most common form of bacterial meningitis. It is the more life-threatening form of the disease.

With septicaemia, the bacteria release toxins into the blood which break down the walls of the blood vessels allowing blood to leak out under the skin.

This causes tell-tale marks on the skin a rash of red or brownish pin-prick spots which develop into purple bruises, blood blisters or blood spots.

Septicaemia can make people very ill because it reduces the amount of blood reaching vital organs such as the liver and kidneys.

Scientists do not yet fully understand why a few people develop meningitis or septicaemia from bacteria which are harmless to most of us.

In 1999, there were about 3,500 reported cases of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia in the UK.

About five people in every 100,000 of the population will be affected by meningococcal disease each year.

At least 95 per cent of people recover from meningococcal meningitis but the recovery rate in patients with meningococcal septicaemia can be as low as 50 per cent depending on the severity of the disease.

Both types of infection can kill very quickly if not recognised and treated in time.

More details are available from the National Meningitis Trust's 24-hour helpline on 0845 6000 800 or the Meningitis Research Foundation on 080 8800 3344.