Meningitis: How to spot it

Meningitis: How to spot it
By C Hoppe
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LET'S GO spoke to Rachel Jex, school nurse at Dubai British School for more information on meningitis, and how parents can best protect their children.

"As a nurse in the NHS I was always on the lookout for the symptoms. Young children unfortunately can appear well until they suddenly collapse. Know your child and what is normal for them. If you are unsure consult your family doctor or take your child directly to accident and emergency".

"Parents worry about the meningitis rash. However, the rash will often come later on and it is often difficult to read if it is blanching or not under a clear glass.  

"Look out for the primary list of symptoms (see below) and consult a doctor if you are at all unsure. At this time of year with the temperature dropping we see an increase in many infection within the school clinic.

"Most of these infections are viral and most children will recover within 3-5 days. However if your child is not coping well with the symptoms or you are concerned do visit your own family doctor," she says.


The Facts: What is Meningitis?

Meningitis affects and inflames the membranes of the brain and spinal cord.

There are three forms of meningitis: bacterial, viral and fungal. While all remain rare in countries such as the UAE, it is actually only the bacterial form which is contagious and certainly the most dangerous.

Meningitis is caused by a bacterial, fungal or viral infection that begins somewhere else in the body. This is usually via the sinuses, ears or upper respiratory tract.


Viral Meningitis

This strain is more common and usually not serious. It can be triggered by various viral illnesses and patients are more likely to fully recover fully from this strain.


Fungal Meningitis

This is an exceedingly rare form of meningitis and usually only affects those with impaired immune systems.


Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial is the most dangerous strain of the condition and can be caused by several different bacteria. For this reason, there are several different vaccines each targeting a different strain of bacteria.

Bacterial meningitis is spread through coughing and sneezing via an infected individual.

The bacteria access the body via the ears, nose or mouth and then makes its way to the brain via the bloodstream.


Diagnosing Meningitis

Meningitis is not always easy to recognise, as it can start with no symptoms at all or those that closely resemble the flu.

However, parents should look out for these common symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Muscle pain
  • High temperature
  • Headache
  • Cold hands and feet
  • A stiff neck
  • Severe pains and aches in your back and joints
  • Sleepiness or confusion
  • A dislike of bright lights
  • Fever and yet very cold hands and feet
  • Shivering
  • Rapid breathing
  • A red or purple rash that does not fade under pressure.

This rash might start as a few small spots in any part of the body - it may spread rapidly and look like fresh bruises. This happens because blood has leaked into tissue under the skin. The rash or spots may initially fade, and then come back.

However, don't wait for the rash to appear, if you are worried about any of the symptoms visit your healthcare provider immediately.

The rash can be harder to see on dark skin, in which case check for spots on paler areas like the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, on the tummy, inside the eyelids and on the roof of the mouth.



The best way to prevent meningitis is to ensure your child’s vaccinations are all up to date.

The DHA would encourage all children to be vaccinated with the scheduled vaccination of the UAE.

According to Rachel Jex, the Meningitis ACWY vaccine is available here in the UAE. Its the vaccine routinely given to pilgrims going on Harj.

In the UK Meningitis C is given to all infant at 3 months of age and again at 12 months of age, Men B is given at 2,4 and 12 months of age. Finally at the age of 13-18 years of age Men ACWY is now being given.

The DHA measles campaign bolstering all children’s MMR is a wonderful way to booster that immunity. Meningitis can be caused from any form of infection including measles.

If you are unsure of your child's vaccine status speak to your school nurse and ask her to check your child’s vaccination records.


What to do

School nurse Rachel Jex says parents should not panic.

Although it is very distressing to hear that a child might have died from meningitis it still remains very rare.

If you are concerned about the health of your child, then do take them to see your own family doctor or visit Accident and Emergency.

To prevent the spread of infections please remember to use a good hand washing technique. Soap and water destroys most germs found on our hands.

If your child is unwell DO NOT send them to school.

If you are concerned your school nurse or doctor is always happy to help.

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