A Guide to Meningitis


A Guide to Meningitis by Dr Sumi Soori

Meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Most cases are caused by infection in children, from babies to young adults. It can be a potentially serious illness which can be life threatening. However, if dealt with quickly, it can be treated.

Types of Meningitis

Meningitis is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Viral meningitis is the most common but least serious type; bacterial meningitis is rare but can be life threatening.

Possible bacteria and viruses that may cause meningitis:

  • Meningococcal bacteria – types A, B,C,W,X,Y,Z
  • Pneumococcal bacteria
  • Haemophilus influenza B bacteria
  • Mumps virus
  • Herpes simplex virus (usually cause cold sores or genital herpes)
  • Enteroviruses (usually cause mild stomach infections

Signs and symptoms

High fever (not always in babies under three months)

  • Reduced feeds or nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue, drowsiness or floppiness
  • Irritability, confusion, agitation
  • Headache
  • Bulging fontanelle (soft spot on head) in babies
  • High pitched cry
  • Rapid breathing
  • Pale mottled skin, with cold hands and feet
  • Limb/joint pains or stiffness, neck stiffness
  • Fits
  • Dislike of bright light
  • Rash

The rash associated with meningitis usually starts with small pinpricks, which then spread throughout the body, turning into red/ purple blotches.

Glass test: A rash that does not fade under pressure (when a glass is rolled over it) is a sign of life-threatening blood poisoning (septicaemia). However, a rash does not appear in a number of cases of meningitis. Remember that the rash may be harder to see on dark skin. Checking for spots on paler parts of the body (eg palms of hands and soles of feet) maybe helpful in these cases.


Complications are rare after viral meningitis. They are more common after bacterial meningitis, and in approximately 1% of cases it is fatal.

  • Hearing and vision loss
  • Cognitive problems (memory issues, learning difficulties)
  • Difficulties with co-ordination
  • Epilepsy
  • Bone and joint problems or limb loss (due to rapid spread of infection)
  • Kidney problems
  • Psychological upset

Vaccines that can help reduce the chances of your child getting meningitis:

There are a number of meningitis vaccinations available that provide protection against some of the infections that can cause meningitis.

  • Meningitis B vaccine (a new vaccine provided on the NHS for infants, available privately for other children)
  • 5-in-1 vaccine (includes protection against Haemophilus influenzae B, a bacteria that can cause meningitis)
  • Pneumococcal vaccine
  • Men C vaccine (protects against Meningococcal C bacteria)
  • MMR vaccine (Meningitis can occur as a complication of measles, mumps or rubella)
  • Meningitis ACWY vaccine (protects against four bacteria types that can cause meningitis)

Important points to consider:

  • Not all children get all the typical symptoms
  • Don’t wait for the rash as it doesn’t always appear
  • Vaccination is key in helping prevent cases of meningitis
  • Trust your parental instincts. Act fast, get medical help immediately if you are worried your child may have meningitis.

Dr Sumi Soori is a Private GP at Roseneath medical practice who has a strong interest in Paediatrics and Women’s health. The practice is open to new patients and offers appointments seven days a week. For more information, visit http://www.roseneath.co.uk