Charity calls for improved early diagnosis of meningitis

ALMOST a third (30 per cent) of young babies with bacterial meningitis receive inappropriate early treatment which delays parents seeking further help, according to a report from the Meningitis Research Foundation.

The report also found that around half (49 per cent) of children with meningococcal infection are sent home after their first visit to a GP and not admitted to hospital.

In a statement released at the launch of Meningitis Awareness Week earlier this month, the charity commented: "National guidelines recommend doctors give parents ‘safety netting’ information if sending home a child with suspected infection – [the] report shows this does not always happen.

"Lives could be saved if parents are given consistent, explicit advice about recognising meningitis and septicaemia (otherwise known as sepsis) from health professionals."

The report highlights that a child with meningococcal meningitis or septicaemia usually displays only non-specific symptoms in the first 4-6 hours of illness but could be close to death within 24 hours. The early signs of meningitis and sepsis are often similar to the symptoms of less serious illnesses.

The Meningitis Research Foundation is calling for an audit of the guidelines to improve rapid meningitis diagnosis and treatment.

RCGP Chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard commented: "GPs are on permanent alert for signs of meningitis in their patients and we do speak to the parents of babies and young children about what they need to look out for which may indicate that an illness could be developing into something much more serious.

"The College would certainly welcome new resources that GPs could share and discuss with patients and parents of young children, that raise awareness of the symptoms of meningitis, so that people can get the best possible care as quickly as possible.

"GPs also recognise that parents and carers are the ones who really know their child best and that listening to a parents' concerns about their child is often an important indicator of whether something is not right. This is something we will always try to take into account, along with any other physical, psychological and social factors potentially impacting on the health of the patient in front of us."