Meningitis and meningococcal disease - protect your child

The tragic case of the death of Faye Burdett from meningitis is in the headlines again. Her parents say they feel the Government has gone back on their promise to raise awareness of the early signs. At the same time, Meningitis Now is warning that parents shouldn't rely on the 'Tumbler test' alone to reassure themselves their child doesn't have meningitis.

We have made progress - cases of Men B have fallen by 50% in the year since the vaccine has been offered to every baby at 2, 4 and 12 months of age. There hasn't been a 'catch up' programme and I had many parents whose babies were born before the programme was introduced, desperate to have them protected. In an ideal world, we'd want to protect our kids from everything we can - but sometimes the maths just doesn't add up.

In the meantime, though, you can make a huge difference by knowing what to look for and getting urgent help if you suspect meningitis

Meningitis - know the signs

Who's at risk? Anyone can get meningitis, but some age groups are at much higher risk. Almost all under one-year-olds in the UK are now protected against Men B by immunisation, and the peak age for Men B is five to six months. But over half of cases of Men B occur in over one-year-olds, mostly in the one to five age group with a small peak at 15-19 years.

The 'Tumbler test' - Press a glass against a rash to see if it fades. If it doesn't, it could be a sign of infections with the meningitis germ Meningococcus - it's always a medical emergency. But not having a rash, or having a rash that does fade, doesn't completely rule out meningitis. This non-fading rash is actually a sign of septicaemia (blood poisoning) caused by the Meningococcal germ. Some children can have meningitis caused by the Men B germ without getting blood poisoning, and some will get meningitis due to other bacteria or viruses.

Freezing feet - A high fever, but freezing cold hands and feet, can be an early warning sign of meningitis - it often happens before some of the other symptoms.

Leg pains - Obviously babies can't tell you where they hurt, but in older children these pains can be severe and again, often act as an early warning sign.

Blue tint to the skin - Pale, blotchy skin, especially with a faint bluish tinge around the mouth, should raise alarm bells.

Headache, neck stiffness and dislike of bright lights - These are the 'classic' signs of meningitis. Severe neck pain on bending your head down and bringing your knees up to 'kiss your knees' could mean meningitis. Meningitis is inflammation of the meninges - the tissues that line your brain and spinal cord. Kissing your knees stretches your spinal cord at both ends. Bending the hip at right angles (keeping the knee bent), then straightening the knee, can also cause severe pain.

Cry baby - Your baby may cry more than usual, and a weak, moaning cry is a cause for concern. Babies may also be more floppy or more irritable than usual (especially if you try to pick them up) and may be off their food or vomit. Look out for bulging soft spot on the top of the head in young babies, too.

Heavy breathing - Along with fever, rapid or laboured breathing at any age can be a sign of meningitis, especially if it's combined with other symptoms.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.