There are currently over 3,000 cases of meningitis and septicaemia every year in the UK and its effects are devastating.

Meningitis is swelling of the Meninges; the protective membranes of the brain and spinal cord, the inflammation usually results from either a bacterial or viral infection.

Meningococcal Group B is the most common cause of Meningitis and the vaccine has just been made available on the NHS. The Meningitis B vaccine and the other meningitis vaccinations that your baby will receive will still not cover all strains of the disease and so it is vitally important that you remain vigilant and learn how to spot symptoms early.

meninges First aid for Life

Meningitis B is currently responsible for the following:

1761 cases of MenB in UK per year

10% of survivors will have a major disability including amputations, brain damage and hearing loss

33% of survivors will have minor deficits including psychological disorders & reduced IQ

Meningitis and Septicaemia can happen to anyone of any age, but babies and toddlers account for 50% of cases and adolescents too, are often particularly at risk.

Meningitis is usually bacterial or viral, and occasionally is due to fungal infections, although almost any microbe can cause it. Viral meningitis can be very unpleasant but is rarely life threatening and most people make a full recovery. Bacterial meningitis is more serious and can be caused by a wide range of different bacteria.

Meningitis and Septicaemia (Sepsis) can be hard to recognise at first as early symptoms are similar to flu and other common illnesses.

Key signs of meningitis to look out for in babies and children:

A child that is unwell and has: pale, mottled skin and cold hands and feet

Symptoms can appear in any order, but the first symptoms are usually:

Fever – particularly with cold hands and feet, vomiting, headache and feeling generally unwell – these early symptoms are extremely difficult to recognise as they are similar to many other milder illnesses.

  • They may have a headache and in small babies the soft spot of their head (fontanelle) could be raised.
  • They may have vomiting and diarrhoea and difficulty breathing
  • Floppy, lifeless and drowsy or stiff with jerky movements
  • A high pitched or moaning cry
  • Irritable, not wanting to be held/touched
  • Refusing food
  • A rash may not appear at all – but if the person is unwell and you see a rash which does not disappear when pressure is applied to it (the tumbler test) – CALL AN AMBULANCE

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Meningitis rash and the tumbler test           DO NOT WAIT FOR A RASH!

meningitis-rashPicture courtesy of Meningitis Foundation

With most rashes, when pressure is applied to the skin, the rash disappears. With meningitis, the rash is different and does not disappear with pressure and so can be seen when a clear glass tumbler is pressed over the skin (the tumbler test)

Pictures thanks to the Meningitis Research Foundation

It can be harder to see a rash on dark skin, check the soles of the feet, palms of hands, roof of mouth and inside eyelids

Meningitis can kill in 4 hours, if you are worried it is vitally important to act quickly

When to call an ambulance

  • If the symptoms are getting worse and you are seriously concerned
  • Call an ambulance if you see a rash begin to appear and you are still able to see it if you apply pressure with the side of a glass.
  • If they are seriously unwell and have some of the above symptoms

Call your GP – if you cannot get to talk to the doctor immediately – get the casualty to hospital or phone an ambulance

If you are sent home from the hospital or GP Surgery and the child gets worse. Return again. Trust your instincts and tell them you are worried!

It is strongly advised that you attend a First Aid course or undertake and online one to understand what to do in a medical emergency.

Please visit: or, or tel 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses. First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information

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