Health experts have issued a warning about possible signs of meningitis in Sussex in the next three months.

Thousands of young and vulnerable people have already been immunised through a mass vaccination programme against the C strain of the infection.

But the immunisation does not work against the rarer B strain and traditionally there are more cases of the infection in the winter months.

This is because people's immune systems are generally at a low ebb and many viruses and bacteria quickly spread from one person to another.

The National Meningitis Trust says it is not expecting any breakouts to suddenly appear in the county but people should be aware of the potential for infection.

As hospitals and doctors brace themselves for an expected high demand on services, guidelines are being issued to ensure people know exactly what signs to look for.

The trust says once armed with the facts people should go with their instincts and demand help if necessary so cases do not end up slipping through the net.

Trust chief executive Philip Kirby said:"The Christmas season sees demands on the health service increase and health care professionals need good, clear information in order to prioritise cases."

There were 134 meningitis cases in Sussex in 1999 but health bosses are expecting the figure to be lower for 2000.

In November 1999 both East Sussex, Brighton and Hove and West Sussex health authorities started their immunisation programmes.

Both authorities have now almost finished the programme but some drop-in sessions have been arranged for people who have still not been immunised.

South Downs Health NHS Trust is holding four sessions next month.

The dates are: January 15, School Clinic, Morley Street, Brighton, 4pm-6pm; January 16, Conway Court Clinic, Clarendon Road, Hove, 4pm-6pm; January 22, Newhaven Polyclinic, Church Hill, Newhaven, 4pm-6pm; January 24, Orchard House, Victoria Hospital, Lewes, 4pm-6pm.

Sessions are for children living in Brighton, Hove, Saltdean, Telscombe, Peacehaven, Newhaven, Lewes, Ringmer, Chailey and surrounding villages.

Lynne Thomson, child health manager for the trust, said: "It is important children and young people have this vaccination.

"Any local youngsters who missed their school or college vaccination session should come along to one of these clinics. They are the last drop-in clinics well be having."

Meningitis symptoms include vomiting, fever, headache, stiff neck, aversion to light, joint pain and drowsiness.

People can also develop a rash which will not disappear when pressed with a glass or tumbler.