Guitarist Jeff Beck, 78, dies 'suddenly' from bacterial meningitis — who's at risk?

The musician died Tuesday after "suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis," his representatives said.

Jeff Beck passed away from bacterial meningitis at the age of 78. (Photo by Lionel FLUSIN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Jeff Beck passed away from bacterial meningitis at the age of 78. (Photo by Lionel FLUSIN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Jeff Beck, one of the most influential rock guitarists of all time, has died at the age of 78 after contracting bacterial meningitis.

Just weeks ago, the British musician finished touring Europe and the U.S. with actor Johnny Depp.

Beck rose to fame as part of the Yardbirds, replacing Eric Clapton, before going on to form the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart.

The blues-rock innovator was known for redefining guitar music in the 1960s and pushing the boundaries of blues, jazz and rock 'n' roll.

The two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee's death was confirmed on his official Twitter page on Wednesday.

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"On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of Jeff Beck's passing," the statement said.

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

A representative further added that the eight-time Grammy winner had been ill over the holidays and passed away at a hospital near Surrey after unexpectedly picking up the infection.

So, what is bacterial meningitis and what are the signs and symptoms? Read on to learn everything you need to know about the condition that tragically took the guitar virtuoso's life.

What is bacterial meningitis?

Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord membranes, typically caused by an infection, bacteria or sometimes fungi.

According to Meningitis Foundation Canada, untreated bacterial meningitis is a "medical emergency" and can be "fatal in a few hours." Those who do recover can have permanent disabilities, such as brain damage, hearing loss and learning disabilities.

The condition usually spreads through close contact to bacteria or virus, such as cold or flu germs. As such, sneezing, coughing, kissing and close physical contact can cause the germs to spread. Because it is difficult to stop the transmission of bacteria, prevention is essential.

Bacterial meningitis is diagnosed by a medical professional after analyzing a sample of spinal fluid from the patient.

This condition can often be mistaken for another life-threatening illness, sepsis, which is the body’s extreme response to infection. Sepsis happens when an infection triggers a chain reaction throughout your body. Without timely treatment, sepsis can quickly lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death.

Bacterial brain infection. Conceptual computer illustration showing Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, one of the main causes of bacterial meningitis and meningoencephalitis, infecting brain cells.
Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. (Photo via Getty Images)

What are the signs and symptoms of bacterial meningitis?

That the timing of bacterial meningitis symptoms can vary widely. Some people can get sick within a few hours of contracting the condition, while it may take others one to three days to show symptoms.

Typically, early symptoms, occurring within the first six hours, include fever, headache, irritability, nausea and vomiting.

Later symptoms occurring within six to 12 hours involve fever, muscle aches, leg pain and pale skin.

After 12 hours, symptoms usually include cold hands and feet, stiff neck or neck pain, rash, confusion or delirium and decreasing responsiveness.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Young woman taking her temperature.
Early symptoms of bacterial meningitis include fever, headache, irritability, nausea and vomiting. (Photo via Getty Images)

Who's at risk of bacterial meningitis?

Certain risk factors can increase a person's risk for getting bacterial meningitis. The risk factors include:

  • Age: Babies or young children are more likely to contract bacterial meningitis due to their weakened immune systems. That said, people of any age can develop the condition.

  • Group settings: Meningitis tends to spread where large groups of people gather or live in close quarters, such as college dorms or music festivals.

  • Certain medical conditions: Some medical conditions, medications or surgical procedures put people at increased risk for contracting bacterial meningitis. For example, having an HIV infection or not having a spleen can increase a person’s risk for the condition.

Immunisation. Protecting children from diseases. Close-up nurse in medical gloves giving injection to little patient. Brave boy getting a flu shot at doctor's office and looking at needle
Getting vaccinated can help prevent bacterial meningitis. (Photo via Getty Images)

Can I prevent bacterial meningitis?

There are many ways to help prevent bacterial meningitis.

Firstly, different vaccines can help protect against certain types of bacterial meningitis. There are vaccines for four types of bacteria that can cause the condition.

Additionally, maintaining good health, washing your hands often, staying home when you're sick and having a strong immune system can protect us from most causes. Oftentimes we carry meningitis germs with no ill effects.

However, if your immune system is compromised due to cancer treatments, HIV, organ transplants, infection or other serious health issues, speak with your doctor about how to help protect against meningitis.

Lastly, seeking medical attention as soon as symptoms appear is essential. Moreover, as the condition is contagious, if you’ve been around someone who has it, call your healthcare provider to discuss how to keep from getting sick.

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