Meningitis: What Parents Need To Know


Health Parenting & Family Advice | by | 1st May 2017

toy medicine - Meningitis: What To Look Out For

A rash is something that can cause worry for parents fearing it could be something worse than a common reaction. So with it being Viral Meningitis Awareness week (2-8 May), we’re going to look at what meningitis is, what to look out for and what to do about it.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord and can be caused by different organisms, including bacteria and viruses.

There are two main causes of meningitis

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria

Bacterial meningitis can be life threatening and is the most serious of the two.

Who is at risk?

Children and babies can be particularly vulnerable to infections and meningitis can be life threatening within a matter of hours. Newborn babies can be at very high risk. Meningitis is responsible for more deaths in children under 5 in the UK than any other infectious disease.

The second peak age for infection is in young people aged 15 -19. Students can be more vulnerable due to living in poor housing conditions such as cramped halls of residence. This may be the first time many are living away from home so they may not take care of their own health or eat properly as they do at home with parents to watch out for them. In these cases it can be easy to miss the early symptoms of meningitis – mistaking the symptoms for flu or maybe a hangover.

What are the dangers of Meningitis?

Meningitis can be fatal in a matter of hours if it is not treated, and so urgent medical treatment is needed for anyone with suspected meningitis. 10% of bacterial cases of meningitis cases result in death in babies and young children. 25% of those who survive can end up with side effects such as epilepsy, loosing a limb, cerebral palsy, brain damage, hearing loss etc

What to look for?

These are the signs to look out for in babies and toddlers:

  • Sickness
  • Fever
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Fretful
  • Refusing food and vomiting
  • Rapid breathing / grunting
  • Drowsy / floppy/ unresponsive
  • Unusual cry / moaning
  • Stiff neck
  • Dislike of bright lights
  • Convulsions/ seizures
  • Pale blotchy skin – do the Glass Test (see below)

These are the signs to look out for in adults and children:

  • Fever
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Sickness
  • Confusion and irritability
  • Drowsy / difficult to wake
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Dislike of bright lights
  • Convulsions/ seizures
  • Pale blotchy skin – do the Glass Test (see below)

Cartoon Images credited to Meningitis Now

The Glass Test

Some people may develop a rash of tiny ‘pin pricks’. This rash DOES NOT fade under pressure so a simple glass test will work:

Press the side of a clear glass firmly against the skin. The spots/rash may fade at first but keep checking. Remember that they can be more difficult to see on darker skin.

If the spots/rash does not fade under the pressure of the glass then you need to get medical help immediately. You also don’t need to wait for a rash to appear. If you suspect meningitis, if someone is ill and getting worse, you should seek help immediately.

Keep vigilant

  • Meningococcal bacteria can be passed from person to person very easily by sneezing, coughing and intimate kissing, so be aware of using hankies and washing hands etc.
  • Be vigilant with your children’s friends, especially if they are aged 15-19.
  • Make sure your child knows to tell you if they are feeling ill.
  • Make sure you are registered with a GP or health centre and have the contact details available.
  • Check what vaccines are available with your GP, and see if your family and friends are up to date with them.

For further information check out Meningitis Now. They also have a helpline on: 0808 80 10 388.


FamilyPoint Helpline

If there are any other problems your family is having, then call our advisors on the FamilyPoint Cymru helpline. The helpline is open 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday. They can help you to find organisations that can help.

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