A family friend had their child diagnosed with Meningitis this week, so i thought a blog on how to spot the signs of this very serious condition would be a good idea. It is either a bacterial or viral infection of the thin linings that covers the brain and spinal cord. These layers are called meninges, which is where the first half of MENINGitis comes from. The ‘itis’ part means inflammation. (This system works with most physiological terms with itis at the end. The part of the word before itis usually refers to a body part or organ eg Tendonitis = inflammation of the tendons. Physiology lesson over!)
These signs are for children, but are mainly the same for adults as well.
SIGN 1. RASH
This does not occur in every case as it is specific for certain types of bacteria. However, you need to look for a blotchy red / purply rash that doesn’t blanch when pressed with a finger or glass. The easy way to check is to role a glass over the rash and if you can still see it, it could be due to meningitis.
SIGN 2. LIGHT SENSITIVITY
Another symptom is photophobia or light sensitivity. So if your child is turning away from light or is upset under bright conditions, this could also be a sign.
SIGN 3. STIFF NECK
Because meningitis affects the linings that cover your brain and spinal cord, the inflammation can affect the linings as they pass down from the brain into the spinal in the neck. Any movement of the head and neck would irritate the linings and cause the feeling of stiffness.
SIGN 4. BRUDZINSKI’S SIGN
Again this is linked to the inflammation of the linings of the brain and spinal cord. This sounds very technical, but all you have to do lie your child on their back flat, and gently tilt their head forward with the chin towards the chest. If they flex their legs up bending their knees like this /\ , they have a positive test and could have meningitis.
SIGN 5. GENERAL ILLNESS
Other symptons include headaches, fever & chills, decreased consciousness, drowsy, irritability, agitation and increased respiration rate.
For younger children and babies, they can have a fever with cold hands and feet, a dislike of being held as well as having an unusual cry.
The important thing to note is not all of the symptoms will appear so it can be difficult to spot. If you want more info, a great website is provided by the Meningitis Trust www.meningitis-trust.org
You should always consult a doctor or hospital if unsure. The number for NHS Direct is 0845 4647 and is open 24/7 365 days a year.