Half of children with bacterial meningitis are sent home after seeing a GP for the first time.
A new report to mark Meningitis Awareness Week has found almost a third of young babies with bacterial meningitis receive inappropriate early treatment.
Around half of children with the most common form of the condition are sent home instead of being admitted to a hospital.
The report by Meningitis Research Foundation includes personal accounts of more than 100 parents whose children had meningococcal infection, the most common cause of bacterial meningitis, but were turned away at their first visit to a health professional.
It concludes that lives could be saved if clinical guidelines are better followed.
“Meningitis can be fatal in one in ten cases and the symptoms can rapidly deteriorate,” explains Claire Wright from Meningitis Research Foundation.
“You can have a baby who is well one moment and in 24 hours has sadly died.
“Even with survivors, one in three survivors will end up with amputations, hearing loss, epilepsy.
“So the faster you can treat this illness the better the outcome.
“That’s why it’s really important for parents to be aware of the signs and symptoms and trust their instincts if they feel their child is getting worse.”
The charity is encouraging parents to trust their instincts and is calling for an audit of meningitis guidelines to ensure that safety netting information is being provided.
Consistent and clear advice on how to recognise meningitis would improve diagnosis and treatment.
Early treatment of a child with meningitis can often be the difference between life and death.
Examples of inappropriate advice given to parents include being told their child’s fever was due to a change in milk formula, or prune juice bring recommended for fever and irritability.
Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord – known as the meninges.
The first symptoms of meningitis are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell.
However not everyone gets all the symptoms and they can appear in any order.
Limb pain, pale skin and cold hands and feet often appear earlier than the more well-known symptoms of a rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion.
Babies can have other symptoms, such as unusual grunting sounds, tense or bulging soft spot on their head and refusing to feed.
They can be irritable when picked up, with a high pitched or moaning cry, a stiff body with jerky movements, or else floppy and lifeless and a fever, which can be absent in babies less than three months of age.
If you are worried if someone may have meningitis, do not wait for a rash to appear and seek medical help.
However 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.
Source: Meningitis Research Foundation