EMERGENCY treatment with penicillin should be given in any suspected case of meningitis, says the National Meningitis Trust in a factsheet for GPs. An emergency dose of benzylpenicillin has been found by research studies in the South-west and North of England to reduce fatality rates significantly in cases of meningococcal meningitis, the bacterial form of the illness. Bacterial meningitis caused 110 childhood deaths in 1991, making it the the most common cause of death from infectious disease.

A study in south Wales, published in the Journal of Infection, showed that only 15 per cent of patients admitted to hospital with meningitis suspected by their GPs had received penicillin.

The trust says some doctors may never have seen a case of meningitis, and the factsheet describes the symptoms of the disease. A diagnosis of meningitis or septicaemia, the blood poisoning which may result, should be considered in any child with unexplained illness or fever, it says.