Meningitis is every parent's nightmare.
There are approximately 8,000 cases of all types of meningitis each year in the UK and about half of these will be in the under 5s.
Awareness of this potentially deadly disease can, and does, save lives and improve outcomes.
That's why I would urge every childcare setting to sign up for the world's first Meningitis Aware Recognition Mark (MARM) for the Early Years sector developed by charity Meningitis Now.
Kelly Archer, Meningitis Now Projects Co-ordinator, explains: "A checklist has been developed so that those providing childcare to the under-5s can ensure that staff, parents and carers know about meningitis.
"A childcare setting that completes this and achieves the mark, demonstrates that they are aware of the signs and symptoms, the importance of vaccination in the prevention of meningitis and know what action to take if they suspect meningitis or if there is an outbreak."
Meningitis is a serious disease which causes inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. Many different organisms can cause meningitis, but the most common that we see in this country are viruses and bacteria.
Viral meningitis can make babies and young children very unwell but is rarely life-threatening. Most children make a good recovery; however, this can take time.
Bacterial meningitis can kill, so urgent medical attention is essential. Although most babies and young children make a good recovery, some are left with lifelong after-effects such as hearing loss, epilepsy, limb loss or learning difficulties. Some bacteria that cause meningitis can also cause septicaemia (blood poisoning).
It is vital that nursery managers, practitioners and parents are aware of all the signs and symptoms of meningitis and seek urgent medical help if they are concerned. Early recognition and treatment reduces the likelihood of meningitis and septicaemia being life-threatening and resulting in lifelong after-effects. It is not always easy to recognise the signs and symptoms in young babies, therefore it is important to trust your instincts.
Why is MARM important?
Many of the children in a nursery setting are likely to be fully vaccinated, however, vaccines do not protect against all types of meningitis. Registering, completing and displaying the Meningitis Aware Recognition Mark shows parents and prospective parents that an Early Years setting's staff know the signs and symptoms of meningitis.
There is no doubt that raising awareness can save lives.
To start working towards becoming a 'meningitis aware' childcare setting access the MARM toolkit. On completion of the checklist, the awarded recognition mark can be used across digital platforms and on a wide variety of marketing and publicity materials.
"If all childcare providers across the UK registered and completed the recognition mark, the impact of this awful disease can be greatly reduced. We need everyone to know what to look out for and the seriousness of the illness. Awareness makes all the difference," adds Kelly.
For more information - including the signs and symptoms of meningitis - visit the Meningitis Now website.