01. What is Meningococcal Disease?
02. What are the Symptoms?
03. What symptoms should I be aware of in babies?
04. What should I do if I am worried about someone who is ill?
05. How can I test for meningitis/septicaemia?

What is it?

Meningococcal disease is caused by one of the most aggressive and virulent bacteria commonly found in the back of the throat. The disease commonly takes two forms:

Meningococcal Septicaemia (blood poisoning) – This is the more dangerous and deadly of the two illnesses. It happens when the bacteria enter the bloodstream and multiply uncontrollably, damaging the walls of the blood vessels and causes bleeding into the skin. The illness is called meningococcal septicaemia and usually is associated with the purple rash. Septicaemia can lead to death within hours, or permanent disabilities such as scars and amputations.

Meningococcal Meningitis (bacterial meningitis) – If the bacteria are in the meninges (the thin covering of the brain and spinal cord), the disease is known as meningococcal meningitis. There are many different forms of meningitis – including fungal, viral and bacterial. Bacterial forms, such as meningococcal meningitis, are the most serious. This illness can result in permanent disabilities – such as deafness or brain damage – and even death. Symptoms may include a severe headache, fever, fatigue, stiff or painful neck, sensitivity to light or convulsions.

Meningitis symptoms

Meningitis and septicaemia can kill in hours – know the symptoms

The first symptoms are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell. Red ticks show symptoms more specific to meningitis and septicaemia and less common in milder illnesses. Limb pain, pale skin, and cold hands and feet often appear earlier than the rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion.



Fever and or vomiting Fever and/or vomiting black tick black tick
Severe headache Severe headache   black tick
Limb, joint, muscle pain Limb/joint/muscle pain (sometimes with pain/diarrhoea) red tick  
Cold hands and feet, shivering Cold hand and feet/shivering red tick  
Pale or mottled skin Pale or mottled skin black tick  
Breathing fast, breathlessness Breathing fast/breathless black tick  
Rash Rash (anywhere on the body) red tick red tick
Stiff neck Stiff neck (less common in young children)   red tick
Dislike of bright lights Dislike of bright lights (less common in young children)   red tick
Very sleepy, vacant, difficulty to wake Very sleepy /vacant /difficult to wake black tick black tick
Confused, delirious Confused /delirious red tick red tick
Seizures may also be seen Seizures (fits) may also be seen   red tick

Other signs in babies:

• Tense or bulging soft spot on their head
• Refusing to feed
• Irritable when picked up, with a high pitched or moaning cry
• A stiff body with jerky movements, or else floppy and lifeless
• Fever is often absent in babies less than three months of age

Septicaemia can occur with or without meningitis. Not everyone gets all the symptoms and they can appear in any order.

What should I do if I am worried about someone who is ill?

Trust your instincts. Someone who has meningitis or septicaemia could become seriously ill very quickly. Get medical help immediately if you suspect meningitis or septicaemia – it’s a race against time.

The tumbler test

Meningitis and septicaemia Tumbler testIf you are seriously worried about someone who is ill, don’t wait for a rash to appear – get medical help.
But if they are already ill and get a new rash or spots, use the Tumbler Test.

Press a clear glass tumbler firmly against the rash. If you can see the marks clearly through the glass seek urgent medical help immediately.

A rash caused by septicaemia

Check the entire body. Look out for tiny red or brown pin-prick marks which can change into larger red or purple blotches and blood blisters.

The septicaemia rash on dark skin
The darker the skin the harder it is to see a septicaemic rash so check lighter areas like the palms of hands and soles of feet or look inside the eyelids and the roof of the mouth.
Remember, a very ill person needs medical help even if there are only a few spots, a rash or no rash at all.