GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has said greater awareness of meningitis is needed after a study it commissioned revealed that parents often fail to identify the early signs and symptoms of the disease.

Research coinciding with Meningitis Awareness Week, which runs from September 17-24, found the majority of parents of three to five-year-olds, 14 to 15-year-olds and 18 to 19-year-olds identified a dislike of bright lights, stiff neck and a rash as early signs of meningitis.

However, these may not occur until after other symptoms have emerged such as a headache, vomiting, fever, muscle pain and cold hands and feet.

The study also found that 40% of parents are unaware there is more than one vaccine to protect children against different strains of the disease.

Researchers went on to reveal that lower priority is given to vaccinations as children get older, with 287 cases of invasive meningococcal disease emerging during the first three months of this year, an increase of 7.9% on the same period last year.

The NHS vaccination programme provides vaccines for meningitis B to babies and meningitis ACWY for children aged 13 to 14 years old. Both vaccines are available privately for those who are not eligible under the scheme.

The former rugby player Matt Dawson, who launched an awareness campaign after his son contracted meningitis B two-and-a-half years ago and almost died, said: “Babies, children and young adults are all at risk of meningitis and parents want to do the best for their children, so it’s important that they are fully aware of the symptoms.

“The rash is commonly thought of as an early sign but often appears later on or not at all. I urge parents not to wait for the rash but to learn about early symptoms and to speak with a GP or pharmacist about ways to prevent meningitis.”

The research was carried out as part of GSK’s Cotton-on to Meningitis: Let’s Tackle it Together campaign.