When should you go to A&E?

With the advice to get to hospital as soon as possible if you think your child has meningitis, but then health bosses telling people with flu to stay away, when should you go to A&E?

There are currently an increasing number of cases in the North West with charities worried about people missing the signs of the fatal disease.

Professor Qutub Syed, Director from the Health Protection Agency North West, is warning that this time of the year tends to bring an increase in cases of meningococcal infection and everyone should be aware of its symptoms.

"Meningococcal disease is not always easy to detect, but we are keen to ensure that everyone should have a basic knowledge of the signs to look out for and be prepared to take urgent action when they recognise them," Professor Syed said.

"Our advice is that if you suspect that someone has meningococcal disease, call the doctor immediately. If the doctor isn't available, take the patient to the nearest Accident and Emergency Department. Prompt action is vital."

Meningococcal infection is caused by the bacterium (germ) meningococcus. It can result in meningitis (inflammation of the brain lining) and/or septicaemia (blood poisoning). Infection can occur at any age, though most cases are recorded in children under four years old. Teenagers up to age 19 are the next most vulnerable group.

Early symptoms of the disease may include:
A rash that does not fade when pressed with a glass (due to bleeding under the skin).
Sudden onset of high fever
A severe and worsening headache (without any other obvious cause)
Severe neck stiffness
Dislike of bright lights (photophobia)
Very cold hands and feet
Drowsiness that can deteriorate into a fever

Babies with meningococcal disease tend to be irritable when picked up and have a high pitched cry, stiff body and jerking movements.

"The symptoms are not always present and this can be a problem, particularly in identifying the disease in babies and very young children. If a baby is obviously ill or distressed, parents should seek medical help immediately. Don't take a chance with a child's health," Professor Syed said.

The Meningitis Trust on 0800-028-1828 or at www.meningitis-trust.org
Meningitis Research Foundation on 0808-800-3344 or www.meningitis.org
NHS Direct on 0845-4647