Up to half of the children with bacterial meningitis will not be diagnosed when they visit a doctor for the first time. Charities are warned. Parents are sent home too often without advice to go to the hospital immediately if the symptoms get worse.
Recognizing the early signs of meningitis can be extremely difficult, as they are often similar to a cold flu or ear infection, but the infection can end fatally within 24 hours, the Meningitis Research Foundation said.
For this reason, national guidelines state that family doctors and A & E staff should give parents "safety nets", how long a minor illness should last, and what to do if the symptoms get worse if they are a child with a non-specific condition See infection.
But a charity report has warned that too often there is no safety net and patients are given incorrect instructions that actually delay the search for appropriate help.
The report contains accounts of 134 parents, 103 of whom were sent home with inadequate insurance that it was a milder condition.
In 23 of the cases, the child had died while others suffered severe injuries such as amputations or brain damage.
Kirstie Walkden's nine-month-old daughter Amy became "ill" in August of last year after a few days.
"I brought her to A & E on Sunday when her symptoms escalated: temperature, vomiting, blotchy skin, quick breathing, lethargic," said Mrs. Walkden. "However, we were sent home with antibiotics for suspected otitis." I was surprised, but felt reassured. "
"At home, the temperature continued to rise and on Tuesday she did not eat and eat anymore and I could not get a normal reaction from her.
"My instincts screamed that this was serious, so I made the decision to take her to the hospital – where the hell is going."
Within an hour, the hospital treated her for meningitis and sepsis, a complication of severe infections in which the immune system goes into overdrive and attacks the body.
"We lived a nightmare and asked her to keep fighting, and on the 18th, she was finally good enough to come home," said Mrs. Walkden. While Amy recovers well, she adds, "Only time will tell" if there were long-term effects of the infection.
Investigations in the Foundation's report show that 49 percent of children with meningococcal infection, the most common cause of bacterial meningitis, are sent home after their first visit to a family doctor or other medical specialist and are not hospitalized.
Other studies say that one-third of patients are sent home or given inappropriate assurances, and the charity warns that safety information from doctors is often very different and may not cover both meningitis and sepsis symptoms.
There is also no system for monitoring or evaluating the advice to determine how many parents receive the appropriate instructions, and this needs to change, the charity said.
Vinny Smith, General Manager of the Meningitis Research Foundation, said: "There is a real risk that doctors may easily overlook meningitis and sepsis in the initial stages.
"Providing safety net information to patients or parents of children could be life-saving if a child with a serious illness is sent home.
"Parents often have a gut feeling and know when their child is seriously ill, so if a child is sick and quickly worsening, parents should no longer be afraid to seek medical help – even if they have already received one on the same day Doctor were seen. "
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said, "General practitioners are constantly alert to signs of meningitis in their patients, and we talk to the parents of babies and toddlers about what to look for.
"General practitioners also recognize that parents and caregivers are the ones who know their child best and that listening to their parents' concerns about their child is often an important indicator of whether something is wrong."
She said resources to standardize the information parents give about what they should look for are welcome.