Meningitis symptoms in toddlers

Meningitis & septicaemia - Higher risk for young children

The first symptoms are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell. Red ticks show symptoms more specific to meningitis and septicaemia and less common in milder illnesses. Limb pain, pale skin and cold hands and feet often appear earlier than the rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion.

       

    Septicaemia

    Meningitis

    Fever and or vomiting Fever and/or vomiting black tick black tick
    Severe headache Severe headache
      black tick
    Limb, joint, muscle pain Limb/joint/muscle pain (sometimes with pain/diarrhoea)
    red tick  
    Cold hands and feet, shivering Cold hand and feet/shivering red tick  
    Pale or mottled skin Pale or mottled skin black tick  
    Breathing fast, breathlessness Breathing fast/breathless black tick  
    Rash Rash (anywhere on the body) red tick red tick
    Stiff neck Stiff neck (less common in young children)
      red tick
    Dislike of bright lights Dislike of bright lights (less common in young children)
      red tick
    Very sleepy, vacant, difficulty to wake Very sleepy /vacant /difficult to wake
    black tick black tick
    Confused, delirious Confused /delirious
    red tick red tick
    Seizures may also be seen Seizures (fits) may also be seen
      red tick


    Other signs in babies:

    • Tense or bulging soft spot on their head
    • Refusing to feed
    • Irritable when picked up, with a high pitched or moaning cry
    • A stiff body with jerky movements, or else floppy and lifeless
    • Fever is often absent in babies less than three months of age

    The tumbler test

    Meningitis and septicaemia Tumbler test If you are seriously worried about a child who is ill, don’t wait for a rash to appear – get medical help. But if they are already ill and get a new rash or spots, use the Tumbler Test.

    Press a clear glass tumbler firmly against the rash. If you can see the marks clearly through the glass seek urgent medical help immediately.


    A rash caused by septicaemia

    Check the entire body. Look out for tiny red or brown pin-prick marks which can change into larger red or purple blotches and blood blisters.



    The septicaemia rash on dark skin

    The darker the skin the harder it is to see a septicaemic rash so check lighter areas like the palms of hands and soles of feet or look inside the eyelids and the roof of the mouth.

    Remember, a very ill person needs medical help even if there are only a few spots, a rash or no rash at all.

    Things to remember

    • Don't wait for the rash as it doesn't always appear
    • Not everyone gets all of these symptoms
    • Symtpoms can appear in any order
    • Septicemia can occur with or without meningitis.
    • Your know your child best; check on them often, trust your instincts and act fast

    What should I do if I am worried about someone who is ill?

    Trust your instincts. Someone who has meningitis or septicaemia could become seriously ill very quickly. Get medical help immediately if you are worried about someone who is ill.

    What are meningitis and septicaemia?

    Meningitis is inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord – the meninges. Septicaemia is blood poisoning caused by the same germs and is the more life threatening form of the disease. Septicaemia can occur with or without meningitis.

    Meningitis Symptoms in toddlers

    Download

    Download your copy of our Tot Watch leaflet or order copies online
    Matthew Cooper
    Bacterial Meningitis
    Bacterial Meningitis at 21

    That night I really did fight for my life

    More stories
    Tools for Health Professionals
    Ask the Expert
    Professor Chris Tang

    Why are MRF continuing to fund MenB research?

    Read more