What the meningitis rash looks like and how to identify nine other rashes on your child

Earlier this week news that pupil at a St Austell secondary school had been admitted to hospital with meningitis shook parents across Corwnall.

The Penrice Academy student was said to be responding well to treatment and staff were keen to stress that life at the school would carry on as normal.-ADVERTISEMENT-

Staff and parents of children at the school have been reminded of the signs and symptoms of meningococcal infection, which can cause meningitis as well as septicaemia.

One of the most recognised symptoms is a characteristic rash which does not fade when pressed against a glass.

However a rash is not always meningitis, below is advice from midwife and nurse Jackie Hall of AXA PPP on how to identify meningitis and nine other childhood rashes:

1. Meningitis

A rash is often one of the last signs of meningitis or septicaemia, so see a doctor if you’re concerned even before you see a rash.

A child with meningitis would normally be very unwell, with possible reddish/purple spots which may look like tiny fresh bruises. British Skin Foundation spokesperson Dr Anton Alexandroff says if the rash doesn’t fade when the glass test is done – by pressing a clear glass against the skin – this is very serious and immediate medical attention is needed.

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Go to an A&E department immediately.

Is it contagious?

Bacterial meningitis can be contagious.https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.516.0_en.html#goog_10353887470 seconds of 3 minutes, 52 secondsVolume 90% THE MENINGITIS AWARENESS VIDEO AIMED AT STUDENTS

2. Viral rashes

These cause tiny pinprick red spots on the chest, abdomen and limbs which disappear easily when pressed. They can accompany common cough/colds/sore throats/tummy bugs.


Many viral infections resolve within a few days without treatment, but symptoms can be managed by encouraging fluid intake and taking paracetamol for pain relief and fever control.

Always consult a doctor if you’re worried about a rash on your child and if spots are accompanied by other symptoms such as drowsiness, unresolving fever, a floppy body, confusion or difficulty awakening, severe headaches, very pale skin, seizures, shortness of breath, sharp chest pain that feels worse with breathing, or coughing up blood.

Is it contagious?

Yes. Although incubation periods vary between viruses, children are generally most infectious in the days prior to rash outbreak, continuing until a few days after the rash has emerged.

Seeing a rash on a child's skin can be very worrying for many parents, who often fear it could be a sign of a deadly disease like meningitis
Seeing a rash on a child’s skin can be very worrying for many parents, who often fear it could be a sign of a deadly disease like meningitis (Image: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos)

3. Slapped cheek syndrome

This is caused by parvovirus and it leads to a bright red rash on the cheeks, accompanied by slight fever. A child will feel moderately unwell.


It should clear without specific treatment after a few days, and children should rest and drink plenty of fluids, as with other viruses. Pregnant women exposed to slapped cheek syndrome should see a GP.

Is it contagious?

The virus is contagious before a rash develops, but not once it’s visible. Unless a child feels unwell, there’s no need for them to stay off school once the rash has developed.

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4. Chickenpox

A child will seem a little unwell for a few days, and then a few itchy red raised spots will appear on the neck, face, chest, back or other areas. These turn into little fluid-filled itchy and painful blisters.


Chickenpox is usually mild and most children feel better within a week or so, although some can become more seriously ill and need to see a doctor.

It can be more serious in pregnant women and newborn babies. There’s no cure but symptoms can be relieved by the same treatment as other viruses, although ibuprofen shouldn’t be given to children with chickenpox as it can make them very ill.

Topical creams can be applied directly onto the rash to help reduce itching and soothe the skin, or children can take a suitable oral antihistamine.

Is it contagious?

Chickenpox is highly contagious and can make some people very ill, so it’s important to try and avoid spreading it. Children can be infectious for several days before spots appear and for five days or more after, and they should stay away from nursery or school until all the blisters have dried and scabbed over, usually five or six days after the rash appears.

A toddler with chickenpox
A toddler with chickenpox (Image: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos)

5. Measles

A mass of red spots break out around the neck and behind the ears and face, although they can appear elsewhere, including inside the mouth. Initial symptoms include a runny or blocked nose, sneezing, swollen eyelids, sore red watery eyes, fever, small greyish-white spots in the mouth, aches and pains, a cough, loss of appetite, tiredness and irritability.


Contact your GP if you suspect your child has measles. There’s no specific treatment and it usually improves within seven to ten days. If the symptoms are causing discomfort, children should be treated as with other viral illnesses.

Is it contagious?

Children should stay away from school for at least four days from when the measles rash first appears. Avoid contact with vulnerable people such as young children and pregnant women.

Children can avoid catching measles by having the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

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6. German measles (rubella)

This is usually a mild illness with small red spots appearing on the face and spreading to other parts of the body. Other symptoms include swollen glands and a cold-like illness. It’s of serious concern if a pregnant woman catches it in early pregnancy as it can cause birth defects in the baby.


Contact your GP if you suspect rubella. There’s no specific treatment, and the condition usually improves within seven to 10 days. Symptoms can be eased in the same way as with other viruses.

Is it contagious?

Yes. It’s important to reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others, so children should avoid school for four days from when the rash first develops.

Midwife and nurse Jackie Hall of AXA PPP healthcare
Midwife and nurse Jackie Hall of AXA PPP healthcare (Image: PA Photo/AXA PPP Healthcare)

7. Impetigo

Impetigo is caused by overgrowth of skin bacteria and often begins as a red patch of skin around the nose or mouth, although it can occur anywhere on the body. The red patches become a crusty/brownish colour after a few days.


Impetigo may get better without treatment within a few weeks, although it spreads easily if left untreated. It can be cleared by antibiotics, which can reduce the length of the illness and the risk of spreading.

Is it contagious?

Most people are no longer contagious after 48 hours of treatment or once their sores have dried and healed. It’s important children stay away from school until then.

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8. Eczema

Dry or inflamed patches of skin typically form on creases of elbows and behind knees, but can occur anywhere on the body.


Eczema normally responds well to the regular use of emollients or moisturisers. Steroids are useful in managing flare-ups but should only be used as prescribed by a health professional. Specific bath additives, shower gels or soap substitutes may also help.https://get-latest.convrse.media/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cornwalllive.com%2Fnews%2Fhealth%2Fwhat-meningitis-rash-looks-like-1326479&cre=bottom&cip=67&view=web

Is it contagious?

Eczema isn’t contagious.

It can be very worrying when a child gets a rash
It can be very worrying when a child gets a rash (Image: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos)

9. Allergic wheals (urticaria)

These are blistery, reddish, raised skin blotches which can appear rapidly on different parts of the body. They tend to be itchy and are usually due to exposure to an allergen such as animal hair or food, although there may be no obvious cause.


Antihistamines can be helpful in reducing symptoms. Most often the rash settles quickly over 24 hours but if there’s associated swelling of the face, lips or any breathing problems, call 999.

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