Meningitis is inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the MENINGES. The inflammation may be caused by infection by virus, bacteria or other micro-organisms and less commonly by certain drugs.



Usually a mild disease but can make people feel very unwell. Although most people make a full recovery some can be left with debilitating effects such as deafness, epilepsy and cognitive defects.



Life-threatening and needs urgent medical attention.



Occurs in babies under 1 month old.


Meningitis can be life threatening because of the inflammation's proximity to the brain and spinal cord so should be classified as a medical emergency.


Signs & Symptoms:

  • High temperature or fever.
  • Violent vomiting.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Severe headache.
  • Neck stiffness.
  • Joint or muscle pains.
  • Drowsiness & Confused.
  • Disorientated.
  • Dislike of bright light (Photophobia).
  • Dislike of loud noises (Phonophbia).
  • Seizures.
  • Skin rash: Small purple/red "pin prick" rash. Does not fade when the side of a glass is pressed against it.


Sometimes, especially with small children only non specific symptoms may present such as irritability and drowsiness. If a rash is present it may indicate a particular cause e.g. meningococcal bacteria. This rash is characterized as a small purple "pin prick" which does not fade when the side of a glass is pressed against it.


A rash does not fade under pressure is a sign of meningococcal septicaemia which is a medical emergency. However if someone is ill and getting worse do not wait for the rash as it can appear later or not at all.



  • Drowsiness, restless and high pitched crying.
  • Reluctance to feed.
  • Slight tenderness and swelling of the soft parts of the skull.



  • Call your GP. If any delay Dial 999.
  • If you think the child/baby may have meningitis, seek medical advice immediately Dial 999.


Diagnosis is usually made by performing a lumbar puncture, which involves inserting a needle into the spinal canal to extract a sample of cerebrospinal fluid that envelopes the spine and brain. Depending on the type of meningitis treatment would involve antibiotics or anti viral or in some instances corticosteroids.



  • DO NOT delay seeking medical advice or help.


We hope you find this article useful. This is one in an alphabetical series of articles addressing various symptoms and their first aid treatments. If you would like more information on related resuscitation and first aid training, please get in touch.


You might also be interested in our blog about 'quality rather than quantity' when it comes to first aiders.


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