Rash decision on meningitis could cost lives, warns mum
Almost three-quarters of people in Britain wrongly think the main symptom of deadly meningitis is a rash – and they are risking lives with the misconception.
That was the message from a Somerset mum, who called for greater awareness after her daughter contracted meningococcal meningitis just before her second birthday.
Midwinter is the peak season for meningitis and Helen Hunt, from Shepton Mallet, warned that someone might easily have meningitis even if they did not develop any sort of rash.
That is exactly what happened to Helen’s daughter, Jasmine, five years ago. Her diagnosis was almost missed because even though she was seriously ill, there was no rash.
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Paramedics went to Jasmine, but did not take her to hospital, and by the morning she was seriously ill.
“I wish I had trusted my parental instincts and made the paramedic take us to hospital the night before,” said Helen. “Warning bells were ringing, but meningitis is a bit like a lightning strike – you never think it will happen to you.”
Sue Davie, chief executive of the Stroud-based Meningitis Trust, said a recent survey showed 70 per cent of people immediately thought of a rash when identifying meningitis.
“Believing the rash is the only symptom will cost lives, because the rash that does not fade under pressure will not always appear. If it does, it can be one of the last symptoms to be displayed, often too late,” she said.
“By thinking meningitis is just a rash people are risking their own and their loved ones’ lives. You don’t get a second chance with meningitis, so identifying it correctly is vital. It is important to know and recognise the other signs and symptoms and get medical help immediately. Symptoms can appear quickly and rapid deterioration is a sign of a medical emergency.”
She added: “Meningitis can start with flu-like symptoms. Those to look out for are a fever, headache, vomiting and muscle pain. Other symptoms can include drowsiness; confusion; pale, blotchy skin; stiff neck; dislike of bright lights and seizures. In babies, symptoms can include being floppy and unresponsive, dislike of being handled, rapid breathing, a moaning cry and a bulging fontanelle – the soft spot on the top of the head.”
The trust is urging everyone to make themselves aware of all the symptoms. You can download one of its free smartphone apps by going to www.meningitisapp.co.uk, visit the website at www.meningitis-trust.org for information, or telephone its freephone 24-hour nurse-led helpline on 0808 80 10 388 to request a free signs and symptoms card.