Meningitis in children
Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain. It’s a very serious illness, but if it’s diagnosed and treated early most children make a full recovery.
In recent years there has been a lot of concern about meningitis in children. There are several types of meningitis, and some can be prevented by vaccinations.
Early symptoms of meningitis may be similar to a cold or flu (fever, vomiting, irritability and restlessness). However, children with meningitis can become seriously ill in hours, so make sure you can recognise the signs.
The main symptoms of meningitis are:
- Fever (a temperature of 38°C for babies under three months or 39°C for babies between three and six months).
- Vomiting and refusing feeds.
- Cold hands and feet.
- Skin that is pale, blotchy or turning blue.
- Rapid or unusual patterns of breathing.
- Irritability, especially when picked up (this can be due to limb or muscle pain).
- A high-pitched, moaning cry.
- Red or purple spots that don’t fade under pressure (do the glass test explained below).
- Floppiness and listlessness, or stiffness with jerky movements.
- Children may be drowsy, less responsive, vacant or difficult to wake.
- A stiff neck.
- A bulging fontanelle (the soft spot on a baby’s head).
Not all children will develop all the symptoms listed above. If your child develops some of these symptoms, especially red or purple spots, get medical help urgently.
If you can’t get in touch with your GP, or are still worried after you’ve spoken to them, take your child to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department of your nearest hospital.
The glass test
If your child has red or purple spots press the side of a clear drinking glass firmly against the rash so you can see if the spots fade and lose colour under pressure. If they don’t change colour, contact your GP immediately.
This rash can be harder to see on darker skin, so check for spots over your baby’s whole body. They may show up on paler areas like the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, the tummy, inside the eyelids and on the roof of the mouth.
For more information contact one of the following organisations:
- Meningitis Research Foundation. Phone the free 24-hour helpline on 080 8800 3344, or go to www.meningitis.org.
- The Meningitis Trust. Phone their free helpline on 0800 028 18 28 or go to www.meningitis-trust.org.
You can also contact your GP, practice nurse or health visitor for advice, or call NHS Direct on 0845 4647.
Published Date 2010-12-15
Last Review Date 2009-07-28