Meningitis and scepticaemia can affect any baby and there is an increased risk for newborns, as their immune systems are not fully developed. It's therefore vital that parents are aware of the symptoms to ensure that they are not mistaken for flu.
A new vaccine for meningitis B was approved for babies from the age of two months last year and is likely to be available from September 2015. The vaccine, a drug called Bexsero, will be available on the NHS and babies will be vaccinated at two months, with follow up at 4 months and a booster at 12 months. The UK is the first country in the world to roll out a vaccination programme to protect against meningitis.
Meningitis warning signs
- A high temperature
- Clammy pale skin
- Sleepiness and difficult to rouse
- Refusal to feed
- Vomiting (this can also be projectile and in large quantities)
- A bulging or tense fontanel (the soft spot on top of your baby's head)
- Seem irritable when handled
- High-pitched shrieking or crying. especially when handled
- Cold hands and feet despite a high temperature
- Purple rash that does not fade with pressure (see the Tumbler Test below) This does not always appear in babies and is usually only present when the child also has scepticaemia (see below)
- Neck stiffness and a dislike of bright lights are symptoms of meningitis, but are unusual in babies
Scepticaemia warning signs
- Cold hand and feet
- Raised respiratory rate
- Rash (meningitis alone rarely causes a rash – see the Tumbler Test below)
These symptoms appear in any order over one to two days or a matter of hours. And there may be other symptoms. If you suspect meningitis, seek urgent medical assistance immediately.
Many of the symptoms commonly associated with meningitis only appear when the disease is already advanced. Fast actions are vital when either meningitis or septicemia are suspected. This really can save lives! Hospitals would much rather parents be safe than sorry.
The Tumbler Test
Should your baby have a rash, use the tumbler test to check for septicaemia:
- Press a glass tumbler firmly against the rash. If it doesn’t fade, it could be a septicaemic rash.
- If this happens, seek medical advice immediately. And even if you’re not quite sure, don’t wait.
Treatment depends on the severity, speed of detection and your baby's constitution. Some can be treated in hospital with strong antibiotics and other children ill go straight to the critical stage and need intensive care and ventilation. Knowing the symptoms and getting your child to a doctor as soon as possible are critical to his treatment.