Doctors may be missing cases of deadly bacterial meningitis in babies, a UK charity has warned.
Experts are warning that doctors may miss correctly diagnosing babies with deadly bacterial meningitis as they may assume infants without a fever (a classic sign of the disease) do not have the illness.
Researchers at St George’s, University of London, funded by charity Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) say their new study shows the classic symptoms associated with bacterial meningitis are uncommon in young infants less than three months of age – the group at highest risk of the disease.
According to their research, only around half of babies under three months of age who have bacterial meningitis display fever, which has been the trigger for further medical investigations for decades.
Their study, published in the Paediatric Infectious Diseases journal, found that only 54% of infants had a fever.
It involved 263 infants across the UK and Ireland and found that fever (temperature above 38oC) was reported in only 54% of cases, seizures in 28%, bulging fontanelle in 22%, coma in 6% and neck stiffness in only 3%.
In the UK, babies under three months of age are 70 times more likely to get bacterial meningitis than adults. Newborn babies are at the highest risk of all, according to the MRF.
URGENT WARNING: Experts now predict that only around HALF of young babies with meningitis present with a fever. For decades a fever has been a major trigger for further medical investigation.— Meningitis Research (@M_R_F) February 26, 2018
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The authors concluded that classic features of meningitis were “uncommon” among the babies studied.
Professor Paul Heath, one of the study investigators, said: “The symptoms displayed by young infants when they are seen by doctors at first in hospital are often non-specific and only half of cases showed signs of a fever.
“Clinicians must, therefore, still consider bacterial meningitis in the diagnosis of an unwell infant that doesn’t present with fever.”
As the temperature drops once again, it's important to remember that the earliest signs of meningitis can often resemble a cold or flu. Meningitis can happen to anyone, at any time. Make sure you know the signs. pic.twitter.com/no6BNNBdNx— Meningitis Research (@M_R_F) February 24, 2018
“Young babies are particularly vulnerable to bacterial meningitis. Meningitis and septicaemia are deadly diseases that strike without warning. Rapid diagnosis and treatment provides the best chance of survival. “Based on this research, we have collaborated with the study investigators to create a teaching package aimed at doctors and health professionals to aid rapid diagnosis and treatment. “We have also updated our symptoms information for parents so that they know not to rely on fever alone as the main symptom to look out for in babies," added Vinny Smith, chief executive at the MRF.