Meningitis In Babies And Children: Everything Parents Need To Know

Get clued up on signs and symptoms.

19/09/2016 10:00

Meningitis can affect anyone, but it is most common in babies and children. 

Babies are particularly vulnerable to meningitis because they can’t easily fight infection as their immune system is not yet fully developed, according to Meningitis Now. It can be life-threatening if it isn’t treated quickly.

Sarah McMullen, head of knowledge at the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) told The Huffington Post UK: “Meningitis can strike quickly and early treatment is vitally important.

“It is important to trust your instincts – don’t wait for a rash to appear.”

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Is there a vaccine for meningitis in babies and children?

A Men B vaccine (Bexsero®) was introduced into the routine immunisation schedule in September 2015.

Three doses are given to babies at two, four and 12 months of age. Any child born before 1 May 2015 will not have been offered this vaccine.

In March 2016, the Government rejected calls for the meningitis B vaccine to be prescribed to all children under 11 years old. A record number of more than 810,000 people signed a parliamentary e-petition calling for a change in policy.

McMullen said: “Most GPs will automatically send parents an appointment to receive the vaccine.

“However, if you are concerned your baby has missed their vaccine or your baby was born before 11 May 2015, you can contact your GP directly to arrange an appointment.” 

What are the most common symptoms in babies and children?

The NHS states the most common symptom of meningitis is the rash that looks like small, red pinpricks at first. It then spreads over the body quickly and turns into red or purple blotches.

According to Meningitis Now, early symptoms in babies and children also include fever, headache, vomiting, muscle pain and fever with cold hands and feet. 

“As babies and toddlers can’t tell you how they feel, it can be easy to miss vital signs and symptoms of meningitis,” McMullen warned.

“In addition to physical symptoms, parents should look for behavioural signs that include a dislike to being handled or bright lights, being drowsy or unresponsive, unusual crying or moaning, and rapid breathing.

“Obviously the rash is a symptom of meningitis, but this doesn’t appear in all cases,” added McMullen. “And parents should not wait until the rash appears if they are concerned about their child’s health.”

Susette Worgan-Brown, from Meningitis Now told HuffPost UK: “Meningitis and septicaemia often happen together.

“Be aware of all the signs and symptoms. Symptoms can appear in any order, some may not appear at all.”

See below for Meningitis Now’s handy infographic on spotting symptoms.


How reliable is the glass test for meningitis?

The NHS states if you press the side of a clear glass firmly against your child’s skin and the rash doesn’t fade, it’s a sign of blood poisoning caused by meningitis.

“The glass test is one way to determine if a rash is non-blanching (does not fade under pressure),” said Worgan-Brown. “A sign of septicaemia is a non-blanching rash.”

“A fever with a rash that does not fade using this test is a medical emergency. Get medical help immediately.”

What should parents do if they suspect their child has meningitis?

Worgan-Brown said if parents suspect their child has meningitis they should get medical help “immediately”.

“They can contact their GP or in an emergency, dial 999 or go their nearest A&E department,” she said.

“When calling for help parents should describe the symptoms and say they think it could be meningitis or septicaemia. Early diagnosis can be difficult.

“If they have had medical advice, but are still concerned they should seek medical help again.”

McMullen agreed, adding: “When seeking medical assistance, it is important to alert your healthcare provider of the signs and symptoms you have seen and say that you think it could be meningitis.” 

How is meningitis treated in children?

Treatment of meningitis depends on the type your child has. Viral meningitis is more common and less serious, however bacterial meningitis can be fatal if not treated quickly.

If your child is diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, they will be treated in hospital with antibiotics, fluids and/or oxygen through a face mask, according to the NHS

Viral meningitis tends to get better on its own within seven to 10 days and can often be treated at home with painkillers.

For further information on symptoms and treatment in babies and children, visit NHS Choices. You can also call Meningitis Now’s helpline on 0808 80 10 388.

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