Allergies & Anaphylaxis – pre-school
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Dr Anna Maw
Consultant pediatrician at Cambridge University NHS Trust in the UK. A child doctor specializing in brain development and neurology. She has three children.
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Toddler care & health


Meningitis is a serious and sometimes fatal illness. Early recognition and treatment give your child the best chance of a full recovery, so learn how to recognise symptoms of a disease that can come on very quickly. Do not wait for a rash - it is often a dangerous, late symptom and sometimes doesn't appear at all!
Video Tutorial
In Short
Meningitis and sepsis are life-threatening conditions, particularly to babies. If you suspect your baby has meningitis, call the emergency services immediately or take her straight to A&E.

Don't wait for the distinctive rash to appear as this may be one of the later symptoms or may not appear at all.

Being aware of all the common and rarer signs and symptoms of meningitis will give you peace of mind, but always err on the side of caution. If you think your baby is really ill, trust your instincts and seek medical help straight away.

Meningitis in babies

With the help of footage from Meningitis Research Foundation, our paediatric consultant, Dr Anna Maw, explains what meningitis is and what to do if you suspect your child has it.

Do not wait for a rash – it is a late symptom and sometimes doesn’t appear at all.

Meningitis and septicaemia can be hard to recognise at first. Symptoms can appear in any order, but will initially include fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell.

Unfortunately, these are also the first symptoms of many mild illnesses, so it’s important to look out for the following as well:

Symptoms of meningitis
  • High temperature
  • Very sleepy/staring expression/too sleepy to wake up
  • Vomiting
  • Breathing fast/difficulty breathing
  • Blotchy skin, getting paler or turning blue
  • Extreme shivering
  • A ‘pin prick’ rash/marks or purple bruises on the body (Do not wait for a rash – it is a late symptom and sometimes doesn’t appear at all.)
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Sometimes diarrhoea
  • Pain/irritability from muscle aches or severe limb/joint pain.
Other symptoms in toddlers and babies include:
  • Refusing to eat/feed
  • Irritable; not wanting to be held/touched
  • A stiff body, with jerky movements, or floppy and unable to stand up.
Babies may also have:
  • A tense or bulging soft spot on the head (fontanelle)
  • A high-pitched or moaning cry.

Not everyone gets all of these symptoms. In some cases of meningitis, a rash may not appear – do not wait for a rash!

If you’re at all concerned you should consult your doctor immediately, and our thanks to the Meningitis Research Foundation for helping with this page. See more at

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.