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March 13th, 2014


Meningitis is an inflammation of the linings surrounding the brain and spinal cord, which is caused by bacterial or viral infections. One danger is that the signs and symptoms of meningitis can be easily mistaken for other common, less serious infection. A child with bacterial meningitis, however, often deteriorates rapidly.

Doctors should take the precaution of treating suspected cases before they get a definite diagnosis, because early treatment with hospital antibiotics is vital. A recent study showed that 50 % of children with meningitis were initially sent home by their GP, so it is vital that you seek help again if the child gets worse - be persistent!

Possible signs and symptoms

“Red flag” early symptoms include:

  • Cold hands and feet.

  • Pain in the limbs or joints.

  • Abnormal skin colour (pallor or mottling).

Other signs, which can occur later include:

  • Fever (high temperature) and vomiting.

  • Blotchy purple rash (anywhere on the body). May start like pin pricks. It doesn’t fade when it’s squashed with a glass tumbler.

  • Drowsiness or lowered levels of consciousness.

  • Severe headache.

  • Stiff neck (can be rare).

  • Dislike of bright lights (can be rare).

More clues associated with babies:

  • The soft spot on the baby’s head may become tense or bulging.

  • May refuse to feed, be irritable when picked up, or have a high pitched or moaning cry.

  • May be fitting, or be floppy and lifeless, too sleepy to wake up.


  • Call a doctor. Explain why you are concerned, describe the symptoms carefully and ask for advice.

  • If the doctor is not available go straight to the nearest casualty.

  • If the rash is present, call 999/112 for emergency help.

  • Be prepared to insist! If it’s bacterial meningitis early treatment with hospital antibiotics is vital.

If you would like to learn more about meningitis or becoming a trained Paediatric First Aider our courses run every weekend :

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