Meningitis symptoms

Meningitis and septicaemia can kill in hours - know the symptoms

The first symptoms are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell. Red ticks show symptoms more specific to meningitis and septicaemia and less common in milder illnesses. Limb pain, pale skin, and cold hands and feet often appear earlier than the rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion.




    Fever and or vomiting Fever and/or vomiting black tick black tick
    Severe headache Severe headache
      black tick
    Limb, joint, muscle pain Limb/joint/muscle pain (sometimes with stomach pain/diarrhoea)
    red tick  
    Cold hands and feet, shivering Cold hand and feet/shivering red tick  
    Pale or mottled skin Pale or mottled skin black tick  
    Breathing fast, breathlessness Breathing fast/breathless black tick  
    Rash Rash (anywhere on the body) red tick red tick
    Stiff neck Stiff neck (less common in young children)
      red tick
    Dislike of bright lights Dislike of bright lights (less common in young children)
      red tick
    Very sleepy, vacant, difficulty to wake Very sleepy /vacant /difficult to wake
    black tick black tick
    Confused, delirious Confused /delirious
    red tick red tick
    Seizures may also be seen Seizures (fits) may also be seen
      red tick

    Other signs in babies:

    • Tense or bulging soft spot on their head
    • Refusing to feed
    • Irritable when picked up, with a high pitched or moaning cry
    • A stiff body with jerky movements, or else floppy and lifeless
    • Fever is often absent in babies less than three months of age

    Septicaemia can occur with or without meningitis. Not everyone gets all the symptoms and they can appear in any order.

    What should I do if I am worried about someone who is ill?

    Trust your instincts. Someone who has meningitis or septicaemia could become seriously ill very quickly. Get medical help immediately if you suspect meningitis or septicaemia - it's a race against time.

    The tumbler test

    Meningitis and septicaemia Tumbler test If you are seriously worried about someone who is ill, don’t wait for a rash to appear – get medical help. But if they are already ill and get a new rash or spots, use the Tumbler Test.

    Press a clear glass tumbler firmly against the rash. If you can see the marks clearly through the glass seek urgent medical help immediately.

    A rash caused by septicaemia

    Check the entire body. Look out for tiny red or brown pin-prick marks which can change into larger red or purple blotches and blood blisters.

    The septicaemia rash on dark skin

    The darker the skin the harder it is to see a septicaemic rash so check lighter areas like the palms of hands and soles of feet or look inside the eyelids and the roof of the mouth.

    Remember, a very ill person needs medical help even if there are only a few spots, a rash or no rash at all.

    What are meningitis and septicaemia?

    Meningitis is inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord – the meninges. Septicaemia is blood poisoning caused by the same germs and is the more life threatening form of the disease. Septicaemia can occur with or without meningitis.

    Print Friendly and PDF