Meningitis is a potentially life-threatening illness, which affects the membranes surrounding the brain. There are several different types of meningitis and some of them can be protected against by means of a vaccination (your child will have these injections as part of the NHS routine immunisation programme). Meningitis may be caused by bacterial or viral infections; bacterial meningitis is much more dangerous and should always be treated as a medical emergency.

Symptoms of meningitis

Many of the symptoms of meningitis could be mistaken for the common cold or flu but meningitis is a very serious illness which can become severe within a couple of hours; consequently it is important to be able to recognise the symptoms of the condition so you can act quickly and get treatment for your child. Symptoms include:

  • A soaring temperature (which cannot be controlled with medication)
  • Loss of appetite and vomiting
  • Cold extremities (hands and toes)
  • Stiffness in the body
  • Drowsiness and limpness
  • Pale skin (which may turn slightly blue, especially in the hands and feet)
  • Shivering despite a high body temperature
  • A swollen, bulging fontanelle (the soft area on a baby’s skull)

Another obvious symptom of meningitis may be a rash made up of small purple and red spots on the surface of the skin (in some cases this does not appear); if there is rash, place a glass on it and wait to see if the colour fades; if it doesn’t this may be symptomatic of meningitis.

Treatment for meningitis

Meningitis can be extremely serious and may cause death if left untreated; if you suspect your child has meningitis do not hesitate to get emergency medical help. Children have a much better chance of survival if they are treated early so get them checked out as soon as possible. Once the condition has been diagnosed, bacterial meningitis will be treated using intravenous antibiotics; this is usually done in an intensive care unit. Viral meningitis is less serious and will usually not need treating in hospital; usually, it heals over the course of time without any treatment but it is important to rest and take in plenty of fluid during the recovery period.

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