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    Meningitis & Septicaemia

    Small Steps have teamed up with The Meningitis Trust to provide the following helpful information on this killer infectious disease.


    Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain & spinal cord) and the sometimes associated meningococcal Septicaemia (blood poisoning) can affect anyone at any time. However, babies and young children are most at risk, with over half of all cases affecting this age group. More than three babies, toddlers or young children will be taken ill every day. The disease can strike unexpectedly and the speed at which it develops and the dramatic and sometimes devastating course it takes, make meningitis and septicaemia the disease most feared by parents.

    Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to meningitis as they cannot easily fight infection, because their immune system is not yet fully developed. Also, they can’t explain how they are feeling, so it can be easy to miss the early signs and symptoms. The Meningitis Trust wants parents to make themselves aware of the signs and symptom of the disease but, above all, to trust their instincts. If you suspect someone may have meningitis or septicaemia, seek medical help immediately.

    The Trust produces FREE credit-card sized signs and symptoms cards to keep in a purse or wallet. These cards have saved lives.

    Signs and symptoms

    Meningitis and septicaemia are often difficult to recognise. In the early stages, signs and symptoms can be similar to other more common illnesses like flu. Symptoms can appear in any order and some symptoms may not appear at all.

    Signs and symptoms for babies and toddlers include:

    • Fever
    • Refusing food or vomiting
    • Fretful, dislike of being handled
    • Pale blotchy skin
    • Listless, unresponsive
    • Drowsy, difficult to wake
    • Unusual , high-pitched cry, moaning

    • Fever, cold hands and feet
    • Refusing food or vomiting
    • Pale blotchy skin
    • Spots or rash that does not fade under pressure
    • Floppy, listless, unresponsive
    • Rapid breathing or grunting
    • Drowsy, difficult to wake

    A rash that does not disappear under pressure is a sign of meningococcal septicaemia. However, it may not appear immediately, or at all, so don’t wait for a rash before seeking medical attention.

    What is meningitis?

    Meningitis is inflammation of the meninges membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. There are two main different types of meningitis:
    Viral meningitis: Rarely life-threatening, although it can make people very unwell. Most people make a full recovery, but sufferers can be left with after-effects such as headaches, tiredness and memory loss.
    Bacterial meningitis: Can be life-threatening and requires urgent medical attention. Most people who suffer from bacterial meningitis recover, but many can be left with a variety of after-effects and one in ten will die.

    What is septicaemia?

    Septicaemia is caused when meningoccal bacteria enter the bloodstream and multiply rapidly. They release toxins that poison the blood. If the bacteria do not reach the meninges, meningitis does not occur.

    Meningitis facts

    • Each year in the UK there are about 2,500 cases of bacterial meningitis and an estimated 5,000 cases of viral.
    • Over 50 per cent of these cases occur in children under 5, who are regarded as an at risk group.
    • It kills more children than any other infectious disease in the UK.
    • There are several vaccines available to babies and toddlers in the UK, to help protect against some types of meningitis. However, there isn’t a vaccine to protect against all strains.
    • Ten per cent of all cases will result in death.
    • Fifteen per cent of those who survive will be left with devastating after-effects, including brain damage, loss of hearing and sight, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and, where septicaemia has occurred, loss of limbs.
    • Others could be left with ‘invisible’ after-effects, including loss of memory and concentration and behavioural problems.
    • Up to 10 million adults in the UK personally know of someone who has contracted meningitis.

    Where to get help and support

    The Meningitis Trust, the UK’s longest established meningitis charity, is committed to providing lifelong practical and emotional support to people whose lives have been affected by meningitis. The Trust raises awareness of the disease, funds research into its long-term impact and offers a range of professional support services. These include:

    • A Freephone 24-hour nurse-led helpline on 0808 80 10 388
    • Professional counselling
    • Financial support grants
    • Home visits
    • One-to-one contacts
    • Family days


    24-hour helpline 0808 80 10 388

    Download free mobile phone signs and symptoms apps at
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