Tuesday 17 September 2019

Meningitis: What are the symptoms - and everything you need to know

There are two main types of meningitis: bacterial and viral. Stock photo
There are two main types of meningitis: bacterial and viral. Stock photo
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

Meningococcal disease is a serious illness that has the potential to kill a healthy person of any age within hours of their first symptom.

It is an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. There are two main types of meningitis: bacterial and viral.

Bacterial meningitis is less common but usually more serious than viral meningitis and requires urgent treatment with antibiotics, and it may be accompanied by septicaemia (blood poisoning).

The same germs that cause bacterial meningitis can also cause septicaemia (blood poisoning). Like meningitis, septicaemia is a serious illness that can be life-threatening.

Fast treatment can save lives and prevent long-term disability, the HSE advises. Symptoms can include a rash, but not always. Babies and children with meningitis and septicaemia won't have every symptom, and the symptoms don't appear in any order.

What are the symptoms to watch out for?

The person can have:

  • A temperature of 38°C or higher or cold hands and feet and is shivering
  • Dislikes bright lights
  • A very bad headache or a stiff neck
  • Aches or pains - stomach, joint or muscle pain. Has a stiff body with jerking movements or a floppy lifeless body
  • Is vomiting or refusing to feed
  • Is very sleepy, lethargic, not responding to you or difficult to wake. Is irritable when you pick them up or has a high-pitched or moaning cry. Is confused or delirious
  • Pale or bluish skin
  • Is breathing fast or breathless
  • A tense or bulging soft spot on their head - the soft spot on their head is called the anterior fontanelle
  • A seizure
  • A rash that doesn’t fade when you press a glass tumbler against it

How to check for a rash

Check all of your child's body, and look for tiny red or brown pin-prick marks that do not fade when a glass is pressed to the skin.

These marks can later change into larger red or purple blotches and into blood blisters.

The rash can be harder to see on darker skin, so check on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet.

A rash is not the only symptom of blood poisoning (septicaemia). It can be the last symptom to appear and it can spread very quickly. The HSE advises people not wait for the rash to appear before getting medical help.

How to do the glass or tumbler test

Press the bottom or side of a clear drinking glass firmly against the rash

Check if the rash fades under the pressure of the glass

If the rash does not fade, your child may have septicaemia caused by the meningitis germ, and needs immediate medical attention.

Some 11 cases of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia were recorded in the last two weeks, compared to just five for the same period last year

Dr Suzanne Cotter, public health specialist at the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, said: "Although meningococcal disease incidence generally increases in the winter months, the recent increase is cause for concern.

"The HSE wishes to alert the public to the signs and symptoms of this disease so that immediate medical attention can be sought if someone has symptoms.

"If anyone has any concerns about meningitis they should ring their GP in the first instance. Meningitis and septicaemia often happen together and symptoms can appear in any order. Some may not appear at all.

"Parents of children should also check that they are up-to-date regarding their childhood meningococcal vaccinations."

A vaccine that protects against meningococcal C disease (MenC vaccine) is given after six months and at 13 months, and meningococcal B vaccine (MenB vaccine) is offered at two, four and 12 months.

Online Editors

Editors Choice

Also in Life