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  • Writer's pictureFi Ramos


Updated: Jun 4, 2020

Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. There are around 4000 cases in the UK each year and and it can affect anyone, but is most common in babies, young children, teenagers and young adults.

A number of different viruses and bacteria can cause meningitis and it can be very serious if not treated quickly. Meningitis is a life changing injury with long rehabilitation.

Bacterial meningitis can cause life-threatening blood poisoning (septicaemia) and result in permanent damage to the brain or nerves and can be fatal.

Meningitis tend to start with flu symptoms, why is difficult to spot and often missed by parents. Early intervention and timing are crucial for good recovery. Meningitis can be spread by coughing, sneezing, kissing and close prolonged contact and occurs when the germs overwhelm our body’s defences.

Signs and symptoms of meningitis in babies and toddlers:

Symptoms can appear in any order. Some may not appear at all.

  • Fever, cold hands and feet

  • Refusing food and vomiting

  • Fretful, dislike being handled

  • Drowsy, floppy, unresponsive

  • Rapid breathing or grunting

  • Pale, blotchy skin. Spots/rash.

  • Unusual cry, moaning

  • Tense, bulging fontanelle (soft spot)

  • Stiff neck, dislike bright lights

  • Convulsions/seizures

Signs and symptoms of meningitis in children and adults:

Symptoms can appear in any order. Some may not appear at all.

  • Fever, cold hands and feet

  • Vomiting

  • Drowsy, difficult to wake

  • Confusion and irritability

  • Severe muscle pain

  • Pale, blotchy skin. Spots/rash

  • Severe headache

  • Stiff neck

  • Dislike bright lights

  • Convulsions/seizures

Glass Tumbler Test

Small red pinprick spots may appear on the skin. The spots look like fresh purple bruising once spread on the skin. The rash usually develops at later stage, but not everyone develops this rash. A rash that does not fade under pressure may be a medical emergency and meningitis and septicaemia. The ‘Glass Tumbler Test’ enables us to see whether the rash fades under pressure or not.

Press a glass tumbler firmly against a rash and if the rash does not fade and shows through the glass, call for medical advice.

What to do:

If baby or child appear to be abnormally drowsy and develops at least two of the above symptoms of meningitis - take them to the A&E department and DO NOT wait for a rash to appear.

Read more on Meningitis FAQ here


Written by Fi Ramos, Public Health Nurse & First Aid Instructor at Act2care.

Information on this site is evidence based and provided to create awareness and advice only. If you are worried about a condition, seek medical advice.

Theoretical first aid tips are beneficial, however practical demonstrations and exercises are necessary for gaining high standard of first aid knowledge and skills.

If you are interested in gaining first aid skills, contact Fi to find our more about our paediatric first aid classes at

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