Meningitis in babies

Meningitis is an infection of the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord. Anyone can get meningitis, but babies and children under five are most at risk. It can be very serious. Call 999 or 112 immediately if you suspect your baby has meningitis. If it’s spotted early, most people make a full recovery.

Watch our video - Meningitis in babies

What to look for

If a child has meningitis, they may not have all the symptoms and show all the signs at the same time, so if they are unwell, seek help. But there are the key things to look for:

  • • Children with suspected meningitis are usually quite unwell with a temperature and a flu-like illness
  • • They may be unusually drowsy
  • • They may make a high-pitched moaning noise, be grunting or have a whimpering cry
  • • They may floppy, and have a tense, bulging soft spot on their head (fontanelle)
  • • Their hands and feet may be cold to touch
  • • Their skin may be blotchy or very pale
  • • They may be off their feed and may have vomiting
  • • Their eyes may become sensitive to light
  • • Newborn babies may be distressed with persistent crying
  • • Older children may also develop a severe headache and neck stiffness.

Later you may see a distinctive rash of red or purple spots that doesn’t fade when pressed, but meningitis can still be present in unwell children even if they do not develop a rash.

What to do if you think your child has meningitis

Call for help Test meningitis rash
  1. 1. Call 999/112 for emergency help straight away

  2. 2. If they have a rash, check it by applying pressure with the side of the glass. If the spots don’t fade call 999 or 112.

  3. 3. While you’re waiting for help reassure and comfort them and keep them cool. Offer them fluids or their feed to keep them hydrated.

  4. 4. Keep checking their breathing, pulse and whether they respond to you.





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