Meningitis is a serious illness, know when to seek emergency

SHORTCUTS Content Symptoms
  • Experienced, professional GP service for children
  • High-quality private healthcare for children
  • Diagnosis, treatment, & peace of mind for a range of children's health complaint
Google Rating
Based on 164 reviews
Meningitis is a dangerous viral or bacterial inflammation of the meninges, which are the membranes surrounding the brain & spinal cord. It can affect people of all ages, but it is most common in babies & children, with children under five being most at risk, followed by college students aged 15-19.

Bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency, so please visit the A& E department if you suspect that your child has this infection. As the complications can develop in a matter of hours with this illness, it is important to seek care as urgently as possible, rather than waiting to see a GP. Complications with meningitis include brain damage & can be fatal.


Bacterial meningitis is very serious & should be treated as an emergency, as life-threatening complications can develop in a matter of hours. When bacterial meningitis is left untreated, it can cause brain damage & septicaemia, & 1 in 10 cases it is fatal. Viral meningitis, on the other hand, is not a serious condition, & often goes undiagnosed due to the mildness of the symptoms.

One of the hallmark symptoms of bacterial meningitis is a red, spotty rash. This rash is special in that it does not disappear with pressure. To check, roll the side of a clear glass tumbler over the surface of the rash. If the spots do not fade under the glass, please seek urgent medical care. Although this is a classic sign, it is also possible to have meningitis without a rash, so if your child is unwell & you are noticing other meningitis symptoms, it is nonetheless important that you get them checked out by a doctor.

Key symptoms to look out for are:

  • High fever with unusually cold hands & feet
  • Neck stiffness, headache
  • Continuous crying
  • Drowsiness, difficulty being woken up
  • Confusion, unresponsiveness
  • Irritability
  • Diarrhoea, stomach cramps
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blue lips
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Blotchy red rash that does not disappear under pressure

Bacterial meningitis is caused by different kinds of bacteria, which can spread the same way as an ordinary cold or flu, such as through inhaling the droplets in the coughs & sneezes of someone who has the infection. Meningitis develops from an infection that begins elsewhere in the body, such as the throat, sinuses, or ears. It then moves into the brain as it progresses, causing the inflammation characteristic of the disease.

If you suspect your child has symptoms of meningitis, it is advised that you seek emergency medical care as quickly as possible at an A& E department.


Is there a vaccine for meningitis?

Meningitis can be caused by different types of bacteria & virus, & as such there is no single vaccine against Meningitis. There are vaccines that prevent some of the related bacteria however, such as Meningitis B, MMR, & others.

How is meningitis treated?

There are several measures for treating meningitis, including antibiotics, intravenous fluids, & steroids to reduce swelling around the brain. Bacterial meningitis will need to be treated in hospital.

"Can I prevent meningitis?

Some of the bacteria that cause meningitis live in the human body without any problems most of the time. Around one in ten people carries this bacteria at all times, & most of these bacteria are less contagious than those that cause flu & cold.