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Meningitis and Your Baby

The signs, symptoms and what to do.

Meningitis is every parent’s worst nightmare. Devastating and indiscriminate, it can affect anyone of any age but otherwise healthy babies and young children are the most susceptible and at-risk age group. Striking quickly without warning, meningitis can be fatal within hours and early warning signs are difficult to spot – symptoms can often be mistaken for something much less serious like flu.

What are meningitis and septicaemia?

Bacterial meningitis is inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord – the meninges. Septicaemia is blood poisoning caused by the same germs and is the more life threatening form of the disease.

What to look out for:

  • The first symptoms are usually fever, vomiting and headache.
  • These can be followed by limb pain, pale skin, cold hands and feet, a rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion.
  • Other signs in babies can be:
    • Tense or bulging soft spot on their head.
    • Refusing to feed.
    • Irritable when picked up, with a high pitched or moaning cry.
    • A stiff body with jerky movements, or floppy and lifeless.
    • Fever is often absent in babies less than three months of age.
  • Early symptoms can be like other childhood illnesses, but children with meningitis or septicaemia can get worse quickly.
  • It is important to remember that not every baby gets all these symptoms and they can appear in any order.
  • More symptoms information can be found here: www.meningitis.org/symptoms.

What to do if you’re worried:

  • You know your child best; check on them often, trust your instincts.
  • If you think your baby has meningitis or septicaemia seek medical help immediately.
  • Say that you are worried it could be meningitis or septicaemia.
  • Return to a health professional if you have been sent home but your child’s symptoms progress.
  • Don’t wait for a rash to appear. But if they are already ill and get a new rash or spots, use the Tumbler Test: Press a clear glass tumbler firmly against the rash. If you can see the marks clearly through the glass seek urgent medical help.

For more information about meningitis, the symptoms or how you can get involved with Meningitis Awareness Week, please visit www.meningitis.org.

  • The Meningitis Research Foundation's vision is for a world free from meningitis and septicaemia, and they support research into, advocate for and take action towards defeating meningitis and septicaemia.

    Find out more about the important work that they do.

    Learn more

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