Most parents aren't able to recognize meningitis until it's too late

  • The majority of people surveyed believe that a rash, dislike of bright lights and stiff neck are the early signs and symptoms of meningitis - these are important indicators of the disease but typically appear later - or not at all.
  • The campaign calls for greater awareness of the steps that parents can take to protect their children against meningitis when going back-to-school or starting university, including how to identify the early signs and symptoms of meningitis, understanding the risks, and prevention including vaccination.

Parents do not always know the early signs and symptoms of meningitis which if known, could potentially help children receive medical attention more quickly, independent research commissioned by GSK shows.

The research, which was carried out among parents of 3-5-year olds, 14-15-year olds and 18-19-year olds, shows that a dislike of bright lights, a stiff neck and a rash were the three most commonly identified early signs and symptoms of meningitis by a majority of people surveyed.

While these are all important indicators of the disease, they may indicate late progression of the infection, may not be present at all or only occur after other symptoms including a headache, vomiting, fever, muscle pain and cold hands and feet.

The new research was carried out as part of GSK’s Cotton-on to Meningitis: Let’s Tackle it Together campaign, which is run in partnership with former England Rugby player, Matt Dawson, and supported by UK charities Meningitis Research Foundation and Meningitis Now.

As children and young people return to school or start university, the campaign emphasizes that wrapping a child up in cotton wool won’t be protected against the many causes of meningitis, but we can help tackle the disease by knowing the early signs and symptoms, getting treatment quickly, and seeking advice on prevention including available vaccines.

Babies, children and young adults are all at risk of meningitis and parents want to do the best for their children, so it’s important that they are fully aware of the symptoms.

The rash is commonly thought of as an early sign but often appears later-on or not at all. I urge parents not to wait for the rash, but to learn about early symptoms and to speak with a GP or pharmacist about ways to prevent meningitis.”

Matt Dawson

Meningitis is a rare and potentially life-threatening disease that can become fatal if not treated quickly. Older teenagers are the second most vulnerable group to infection after babies and young children because they mix socially with lots of other people who may be carrying the bacteria that cause meningitis.

As parents start to prepare their children for a new school term or going to university, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of meningitis, understand the risks, and be aware of preventive measures.

The research data showed that over two-thirds of respondents are aware that meningitis can be prevented through vaccination, however, 40 percent of respondents were not aware that there is more than one vaccine to protect a child against the different strains of the disease.

The research also shows that when preparing for school or university, a lower priority is given to vaccinations the older the child gets.

In the first three months of 2018, Public Health England confirmed 287 cases of invasive meningococcal disease, a rise of 7.9 percent compared to the same period in 2017.

Since 2015, the NHS vaccination programme has offered vaccines for Meningitis B to babies, and Meningitis ACWY for children aged 13/14 years old. Both vaccines are available privately for those who are not eligible under the NHS scheme and advice is available from your local GP or pharmacist.

Meningitis Awareness Week (17-24 September 2018) is run by the Meningitis Research Foundation.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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