Thank you to Leanne for submitting the following question:

I recently delivered training to a group of new mums and they were worried about being able to recognise meningitis, are you able to provide some idea of things to look for and what the first aid management should be?

Reply by Sarah Hunstead – Paediatric Emergency Department Nurse

Thanks for your question Leanne.
Meningitis is a tricky one, particularly in children. The signs and symptoms can be quite ambiguous, and there are many different types of meningitis (viral, bacterial, fungal etc).

The signs and symptoms could be as simple as a baby not feeding properly and lethargic, with or without a fever. I have seen children present to the emergency department so many times, with such varying symptoms. Aversion to light (photophobia), neck stiffness, headache – incredibly difficult to distinguish in a young child or baby.

Meningococcal Septicaemia (not necessarily meningitis) with the petechial/purpuric rash – the rash can be quite a late symptom (there will usually be many more symptoms before the rash appears).

I would be extremely hesitant to list symptoms of meningitis in babies and young children in a first aid course. I have consulted with many senior paediatricians about whether to include this in my training and we decided not to. I believe it would be reasonable to include it when talking about adults or teenagers.

What you should concentrate on instead is when to seek medical help for an unwell child. We talk about how fever is the body’s natural response to infection, and how the number doesn’t matter, it is about looking at the child as a whole, i.e. are they feeding? floppy? lethargic? reduced wet nappies? not their normal self? serious parental concern?

Getting parents to know when to seek medical attention is the key rather than asking them to look for very specific signs and symptoms, which in a baby or child can be extremely difficult.

Hope this helps!