Parents are being given urgent new advice about recognising signs of a killer disease in children. This follows publication in highly-respected medical journal The Lancet of a study of meningitis by a team of Oxford University doctors. The classic symptoms are a red rash, high fever, stiff neck and sensitivity to light.
These can take up to 22 hours to develop. But parents have now been alerted to other tell-tale signs such as joint and muscle pain, abnormally pale or mottled skin and cold hands. Dr Matthew Thomson and his colleagues examined 448 children who had bacterial meningitis, the most life-threatening form of the potentially fatal disease.
The majority of those examined had non-specific symptoms in the first four to six hours of the illness. Within eight hours, 72 per cent had developed identifiable signs of sepsis (muscle pains). The researchers believe too many doctors focused on the common indicators of meningitis such as the rashes and headaches.
Dr Thomson said: “We believe primary-care clinicians are over reliant on using these symptoms to diagnose meningococcal disease in children and that parents may be influenced by doctors or public health campaigns to seek medical advice only on the appearance of features such as a rapidly evolving rash”. In Britain, at least four in 100,000 children will get menigitis and an alarming 10 per cent of those infected die.