Meningitis and septicaemia 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.

Know the Symptoms


Older children/adults:

  • Fever

  • Severe headache

  • Behavioural changes

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Irritability

  • Drowsy or difficult to wake

  • Vomiting

  • Listless, less responsive

  • Diarrhoea

  • Pale or blotchy skin

  • Blank, staring expression

  • Rash or spots that don’t fade with pressure (also called purpura, petechiae or ecchymosis)*

  • Rapid breathing

  • Seizures, fits or convulsions

  • Muscle, leg or joint pain

  • Stiff neck



  • Fever

  • Unusual high-pitched cry 

  • Dislike of being handled

  • Difficult to wake

  • Loss of appetite, refusing food or drink 

  • Blank staring (or vacant) look

  • Pale or blotchy skin

  • Rash or spots that don’t fade with pressure (also called purpura, petechiae or ecchymosis)*

  • Irritability

  • Vomiting

  • Bulging fontanelle 

  • Neck retraction

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

The signs and symptoms do not appear in a definite order, may not occur all together, or may not appear at all.

This symptoms list does not include every possible sign and symptom of meningitis or septicaemia.

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.

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 The Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO) is a part of Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF).  

MRF is a charity registered in England and Wales 1091105, in Scotland SC037586, and in Ireland 20034368.

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