Signs & Symptoms

Meningitis Symptoms

Meningitis can be hard to recognise in the early stages.

Symptoms can be similar to those of the common flu and can develop quickly, over a matter of hours.

The main symptoms to look out for are fever, vomiting, headache, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, and drowsiness or altered consciousness. The signs and symptoms do not appear in a definite order and some may not appear at all.

This symptoms list does not include every possible sign and symptom of meningitis. Contact your local healthcare professional to ask about the most common symptoms in your country.

It’s important to know the warning signs and to get medical treatment fast. Until the cause of meningitis is known, it should be regarded as a medical emergency.

Know the Symptoms

  • Arching of the back (infants)
  • Behavioural changes
  • Blank, staring expression
  • Bulging fontanelle (infants)
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Diarrhoea
  • Dislike of being handled (infants)
  • Drowsy or difficult to wake
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Listless, less responsive
  • Loss of appetite, refusing food (infants)
  • Muscle, leg or joint pain
  • Neck retraction with arching of the back (infants)
  • Pale or blotchy skin
  • Rash or spots that don’t fade with pressure (also called purpure or petechiae)*
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizures, fits or convulsions
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Unusual high-pitched cry (infants)
  • Vomiting

*Not everyone who contracts meningitis will get a rash. Don’t wait for a rash to appear before getting help.

Image of purple rash and spots that do not fade with pressure.