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Meningitis

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Here we highlight the key signs and symptoms of meningitis

Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, often caused by either a viral or bacterial infection.

There's no doubt that meningitis can be life-threatening and is therefore considered a medical emergency.

What causes meningitis?

The main bacteria causing meningitis are meningococcal group B and C, Pneumococcal, Haemophilis influenza B (Hib), Group B streptococcus (GBS), E-Coli, TB and Listeria, but the symptoms for each are similar.

Key signs and symptoms

Left untreated, meningitis can kill within four hours, so acting quickly if you suspect your child has the illness is vital. Here are the key symptoms to look out for.

Your toddler could:

  • Have a high fever but with cold hands and feet
  • Be irritable with a high-pitched, moaning cry
  • Have pale and blotchy skin
  • Be drowsy and unresponsive
  • Vomit or lose her appetite
  • Have fast/shallow breathing or grunting
  • Complain of a sore neck and dislike looking at bright lights
  • Have fits or seizures
  • Develop a rash with purple red bruise like spots that do not fade when under pressure

Check the rash by pressing it with a clear glass (or plastic) tumbler; if the spots do not fade under the glass this could indicate meningococcal septicaemia and you need to get medical help immediately.

If the spots fade when the glass is rolled over them, the rash may not be serious, but keep checking.

Don't just look for signs of a rash before calling for help. If your toddler has some of the other symptoms – seek help immediately – either from your doctor or go straight to hospital emergency.

If it is meningitis your baby will be treated immediately with strong antibiotics and intensive care.

Who gets it?

Young children under five are most at risk from meningitis, with over 50% of all cases occurring in this age group.

Meningitis kills more children under the age of five than any other infectious disease in the UK.

Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable as they cannot easily fight infection because their immune system is not yet fully developed.

Vaccination

Vaccinations are now offered against B and C, HiB and Pneumococcal causes of meningitis as part of the routine immunisation schedule for babies in the UK.

Make sure your child has these immunisations to reduce the risk of them developing meningitis and serious breathing problems. However, there are other forms of meningitis for which there are no vaccinations so you should still be on the look out for the key signs and symptoms.

Your meningitis checklist:

Always remember:

  • The tell-tale 'rash' does not appear with all types of meningitis – so if your toddler shows other signs – seek help immediately.
  • Meningitis is a medical emergency – always call your doctor or go straight to your nearest A&E department if you think your toddler has it.
  • Immunisation only protects against two forms of meningitis.
  • Don't worry if you're wrong - a doctor would rather see your child and be sure, than miss out on a real case of meningitis. Always check it out.

For more information, visit Meningitis Now

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