Meningitis is inflammation of the lining surrounding the brain. It can be caused
by many different organisms including bacteria, viruses and fungi. Some bacteria
that cause meningitis can also cause septicaemia (blood poisoning), when the bacteria
enter the bloodstream and multiply uncontrollably. This is most often seen with meningococcal
meningitis, causing meningococcal septicaemia.
Signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia
Meningitis and septicaemia are not always easy to recognise at first. In the early
stages, signs and symptoms can be similar to common illnesses such as flu. Meningitis
symptoms do not appear in any order and some may not appear at all;
Early symptoms can include fever, headache, feeling sick, vomiting and general tiredness.
Trust your instincts, if you suspect meningitis or septicaemia, get medical help
immediately - even if there is no rash
The common signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia are shown on the Arc.
Others can include cold hands and feet, rapid breathing, diarrhoea, leg pains and
a rash that does not fade under pressure. In babies, check if the soft spot (fontanelle)
on the top of the head is tense or bulging. Remember, the symptoms may sometimes
develop slowly, but the person can become ill very quickly.
What about the meningitis rash?
Both adults and children may have a rash. One sign of meningococcal septicaemia is
a rash that does not fade under pressure - the Arc was designed specifically to help
you identify this type of rash. This rash is caused by blood leaking into the tissues
under the skin. It starts as tiny pinpricks anywhere on the body. It can spread quickly
to look like fresh bruises. The rash is more difficult to see on darker skin - look
on the paler areas of the skin and under the eyelids.
It is important to note that sometimes there may initially be a rash present that
will disappear when pressed. However this may develop in to a rash that does not
disappear under pressure. Therefore it is very important to check the rash from
time to time, especially if the patient is unwell and has a fever. Trust your instincts
- if in doubt get medical help immediately.
What to do if you suspect meningitis or septicaemia
Contact your GP immediately. If your GP is not available, go straight to your nearest
accident and emergency department
Describe the symptoms carefully and say that you think it could be meningitis or
Early diagnosis can be difficult. If you have seen a doctor and are still worried,
don't be afraid to ask for medical help again
Trust your instincts; if you are concerned get medical help immediately