Understandably, parents who notice their child has a rash often visit their GP terrified it may be caused by meningococcal disease.
Fortunately, we GPs have a lot of experience putting minds at ease. As childhood rashes are incredibly common, we reassure parents it’s usually caused by something MUCH less severe.
COMMON WARNING SIGNS:
- Pink, reddish, and purple marks
- The drinking glass test
- The rash isn’t confined to a small area of skin
- Other symptoms accompany the rash
- An absence of scratching
- About Dr Jeanne North
A meningococcal rash is often a later-stage and dangerous sign of the disease. You would no doubt notice other serious symptoms before a rash appears.
Trust me; you wouldn’t be reading this blog post if your child already had meningococcal disease. Sadly, it makes kids so sick that you’d already be at the nearest hospital emergency department.
Meningococcal Disease Facts
Meningococcal disease is a severe yet rare bacterial disease, not a viral illness as many people believe. Here’s an overview:
- The two most common types of the disease are meningitis which affects the brain and spinal cord, and septicaemia, affecting the blood.
- Rashes are most common in septicaemia, though people can be infected with both types and still exhibit a rash.
- Most at risk are those aged 15-24 years old and 0-5 years old.
- Though not easily spread, the disease is transmitted through mucus (saliva).
- Occurrences in winter and spring are most common due to increased mucus production from common colds and hay fever.
- It can quickly become fatal.
- Along with a high fever, symptoms are wide-ranging.
Common Indicators of a Meningococcal Rash
Here are five signs that a rash may be a symptom of meningococcal disease.
THE PRESENCE OF PINK, REDDISH, AND PURPLE MARKS
A meningococcal rash is caused by bleeding under the skin. It can start as pink OR reddish pinprick-sized lesions, progressing to more prominent purple bruise-like markings as the rash spreads and further bleeding occurs (i.e. haemorrhages).
The rash is often harder to notice in darker-skinned people, especially during the early stages. Paler areas of their body should be observed, such as their palms and mouth.
THE DRINKING GLASS TEST
Many harmless rashes fade and become lighter (known as ‘blanching’) when you place a drinking glass against the affected area.
A meningococcal rash will often remain red or purple under the same test.
THE RASH ISN’T CONFINED TO AN ISOLATED AREA
Concerned parents often visit worried their child’s isolated rash is a sign of meningococcal disease.
I usually reassure them it’s more likely a skin irritation or that they’ve just been scratching at part of their body.
A meningococcal rash typically spreads over large areas of skin. It’s very obvious that something serious is going on.
THE RASH IS ACCOMPANIED BY OTHER SYMPTOMS
A rash is usually a relatively late symptom of meningococcal disease. Your child will show signs of illness before a rash appears.
You’ll typically notice symptoms such as fevers, loss of appetite, vomiting, muscle and joint pain (often neck stiffness), lethargy, irritability, and headaches.
YOUR CHILD ISN’T SCRATCHING
Unlike many common rashes, the meningitis rash isn’t itchy. Children’s skin is more sensitive than adults, so a lack of scratching can be a bad sign.
A meningococcal rash can look pretty nasty, so it would seem strange that your child wasn’t scratching at it.
Take Immediate Action if Concerned
Above all, if you have any concerns that your child has meningococcal disease, call 000 immediately for an ambulance.
By the time a rash is present, it’s extremely serious, and your child will need urgent IV antibiotics.
Luckily we now have vaccines to protect against all common strains of bacterial meningococcal disease, including A, B, C, W, and Y.
Most vaccines are included in the government-funded National Immunisation Program Schedule.
Please speak with your GP about your child’s vaccine history and whether they recommend extra vaccines that may require a script.
Dr Jeanne North is a local GP at Doctors of South Melbourne.