Meningitis in babies

October 4, 2009


The autumn and winter are the high season for meningitis so let’s have a look at the most vulnerable group, babies under 12 months of age.

You may not know it, but this group run 38 times the risk of meningitis than children over one and adults. Every year over 1000 babies contract meningitis and one in four are left with after-effects sometimes as severe as deafness, brain damage and amputations and sadly one in ten will die. At present there is no vaccine against meningococcal B – the strain of meningitis responsible for the majority of cases of meningitis in the UK. .

I am not generally a fan of antibiotics, but meningitis can be prevented in newborn babies by giving antibiotics to at-risk mothers during labour. This recommendation has been in place several years, but many ‘at-risk’ mothers are never offered this option and it is believed that half of the current cases of Group B Strep in newborns could be prevented if guidelines were followed.

It can be very difficult to spot meningitis in babies because the symptoms are much less obvious than in older children and adults but the following list is a guide. Remember that babies can deteriorate very fast so if in any go to hospital immediately:

• Tense or bulging soft spot

• High Temperature

• Very sleepy/staring expression/too sleepy to wake up

• Vomiting/refusing to feed

• Irritable when picked up, with a high pitch or moaning cry

• Breathing fast / difficulty breathing

• Blotchy skin, getting paler or turning blue

• Extreme shivering

• A stiff body with jerky movements, or else floppy / lifeless

• ‘Pin prick’ rash / marks or purple bruises on the body

• Cold hands and feet

• Sometimes diarrhoea

• Pain/ irritability from muscle aches or severe limb/joint pain

The Meningitis Research Foundation provide very good information free on their website at or Freephone helpline 080 8800 3344


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