Did you know that last week was meningitis awareness week? Did you know that teenagers are considered a particularly high risk especially those starting university?
This is particularly close to my heart as my family had a horrible scare with my younger sister when she was 14. She woke one morning feeling unwell and developed a nasty rash over her body. Within 30 minutes she was unable to walk. My sister had meningococcal sepsis. She was one of the lucky ones. We were living right opposite a hospital and my parents rushed her there immediately so she got the antibiotics she desperately needed straight away. She managed to recover from this deadly bug unscathed, after a stint in hospital and a period of recovery, but many are not so fortunate.
Meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning) can kill. Thankfully cases are rare, especially with our wonderful immunisation programme here in the UK. The NHS childhood immunisation programme within the first year includes immunisations against common bugs that cause meningitis. There is also a MenACWY immunisation recommended for 14-18y olds and first year university students to provide protection against a nasty strain of meningococcal disease.
It is still important to recognise when your child is unwell. In younger children, it can be tricky to tell if they have a serious infection or just a mild viral illness. Here are some questions to ask…
· Does your little one have a fever? A fever is a body temperature over 38 degrees. If your child is cold or has a temperature that is going up and down then this can also be important. Remember any temperature over 38 degrees in a baby under 3 months (not associated with vaccination) needs to be seen by a doctor. Any baby under 6 months with temperature over 39 degrees should also be seen by a doctor.
· Does the temperature come down with paracetamol or ibuprofen? If it does and your little one seems to be back to their normal self in between temperatures then this is useful to know.
· Is he or she eating and drinking as normal? It is common for children to go off food when they’re not feeling well and that’s ok. However it is important that they are still taking a good amount of fluid (breastfeeding/formula/water/dilute squash depending on their age). A good way to monitor this is by keeping an eye on their wet nappies or wees which should be normal or near normal for your child.
· Is there a rash? If you can see a rash, do the glass or tumbler test! https://www.meningitis.org/meningitis/check-symptoms
Any rash that does not fade, when a glass is pressed area of skin with the rash, is called a non-blanching rash and must be seen by a doctor urgently. A child with a fever and a non-blanching rash must be seen in A&E straight away and an ambulance should be called if necessary
· What is their behaviour? Well, poorly children are usually miserable. However, if the fever comes down with paracetamol/ibuprofen and your little one is still feeling unwell/not their usual self then this can be a worry. In the same way if your little one is very sleepy and you have trouble waking them or keeping them awake then they should be seen by a doctor urgently. The same goes for if you think your child may be having or has had a fit.
I think this is a useful symptom checker from the meningitis research foundation to help you work out if your child might have meningitis: https://www.meningitis.org/meningitis/check-symptoms
The bottom line is, if you are worried that your child is unwell then you should take them to get checked out. In young children the symptoms of sepsis or meningitis or a simple cold can be similar. Serious illnesses can also progress quickly. You can have meningitis without a rash. You can have a non-blanching rash and not have meningitis. If in doubt, call 111 for advice, take your little one to the GP or in an emergency go to A&E or call an ambulance.
And please immunise your children.