Thankfully, meningitis is extremely rare. The organisms are passed between people by droplet spread (like a cold) and the incubation period is two to three days. There is usually a fever, with the child seeming off-colour, and there may be vomiting.
There may be a rash early on, which doctors call non-specific (it doesn't have obvious signs of any particular rash and the spots go pale on pressure). Later on, the rash of meningitis is unmistakable. The spots may be pink or purple, but the obvious feature is that they do not go pale when you press the side of a glass tumbler against them.
If you ever see a rash like this on an adult or a child seek immediate medical help. If you cannot contact a GP take your child to hospital casualty.
Don't wait for a rash to appear as it may be the last symptom.
Other signs are a stiff neck or back, unusual drowsiness, or a change in the sound of the baby's cry. Other children may complain of pain when they look at a light. The child may be very irritable.
One of the problems with meningitis is that the early signs are the same as those of a fever. On an average night on call a GP may see several children with fevers. Although your doctor will think about meningitis and probably test for it, a child who is in the early stages may not show the signs until some hours later.
Don't be afraid to ask your doctor about the signs to look for. If your child's condition seems to be deteriorating call your doctor back.
• Severe headache.
• High temperature.
• Stiff neck.
• Sensitivity to light.
• Rash as described above.