Symptoms in babies

Is your baby getting worse fast? Babies can get ill very quickly, so check often.

  • 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

Not every baby gets all these symptoms. Symptoms can appear in any order.

What is the risk to my baby?

Most babies have natural resistance to these diseases. Meningitis vaccines give excellent protection but can't prevent all forms of meningitis and septicaemia.

What should I look out for?

Early symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia (the blood poisoning form of the disease) can be like other childhood illnesses, but a baby will usually get ill quickly and get worse fast.

Septicaemic rash

Watch out for tiny red or brown pin prick marks which can change into purple blotches or blood blisters. If your baby gets a rash, do the Tumbler Test

So check for spots over baby's whole body, especially on paler areas like palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, on the tummy, inside the eyelids, and on the roof of the mouth.

What should I do if I am worried about my baby?

Trust your instincts. If you think your baby has meningitis or septicaemia get medical help immediately from your GP, or go to the nearest hospital A & E. Tell them you are worried it could be meningitis or septicaemia.

Tumbler test for septicaemia

If a glass tumbler is pressed firmly against a septicaemic rash, the marks will not fade. You will be able to see them through the glass. If this happens get medical help immediately. Remember, a very ill baby needs medical help even if they have no rash or a rash that fades.

Meningitis and septicaemia can kill in hours

Meningitis is the swelling of the lining around the brain and spinal cord.

Septicaemia is blood poisoning caused by the same germs that cause meningitis.

There are many forms of meningitis and septicaemia. Some forms are more common than others.

What is the risk to my child?

Children under five are most at risk of meningitis and septicaemia.

Fortunately, most children have natural resistance and vaccines give excellent protection against some forms.

But remember, we don't have vaccines to prevent all forms.

That's why it's vital to know the symptoms and know what to do if you suspect your toddler has meningitis or septicaemia.

What should I look for?

Look out for the symptoms shown on this page.

Meningitis and septicaemia can be hard to recognise in the early stages because the first symptoms are just like many mild childhood diseases.

A child with the most common form of meningitis or septicaemia will usually get ill quickly and get worse fast, so check your unwell toddler often, including during the night.

It is important to look for a rash. Many things can cause a rash, such as allergies and viruses, but if you see the tell-tale marks of septicaemia, get medical help right away.

However, with the less common forms of meningitis and septicaemia there may be no rash, so do not wait for a rash to appear if you are worried about an unwell child showing other symptoms.

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