Thankfully, researchers from the University of Oxford have come up with a new set of symptoms that may identify an earlier stage of the condition, including: pain in the legs, cold hands and feet, and a pale or mottled skin.
In a study of 448 children with meningitis, the first few hours of the illness were dominated by fever, nausea and vomiting, irritability, and sometimes a runny nose and sore throat. These symptoms lasted around four hours in young children, and eight hours in adolescents. Within seven to 12 hours after that, the trio of early-stage symptoms emerged. The most common ones were cold hands and feet, followed by the leg pain. The skin-colour changes were seen in only 19 per cent of cases.
The classic later symptoms appeared within 13 to 22 hours - by which time, many of the children were already in hospital, with some close to death (Lancet, 2006; 367: 397-403).