A classic symptom of meningitis is a blotchy rash that doesn't fade when a glass is rolled over it, but this doesn't appear in many cases.

You should get medical advice as soon as possible if you're concerned about yourself or your child. Trust your instincts and don't wait until a rash develops.

Call 999 for an ambulance or go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department if you think you or your child might be seriously ill.

Call NHS 111 or your GP surgery for advice if you're not sure if it's anything serious.

Meningitis rash

The classic rash associated with meningitis usually looks like small, red pinpricks at first.

It then spreads over the body quickly and turns into red or purple blotches.

If you press the side of a clear glass firmly against the skin and the rash doesn't fade, it's a sign of blood poisoning (septicaemia) caused by meningitis and you should get medical advice right away.

The rash can be harder to see on dark skin. Check for spots on paler areas like the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, the tummy, inside the eyelids, and the roof of the mouth.

Other symptoms of meningitis

Meningitis can have a number of other symptoms, too, including:

  • a high temperature (fever) over 37.5C (99.5F)
  • feeling and being sick
  • irritability and a lack of energy
  • headache
  • aching muscles and joints
  • breathing quickly
  • cold hands and feet
  • pale, mottled skin
  • stiff neck
  • confusion
  • a dislike of bright lights
  • drowsiness
  • fits (seizures) 

Babies may also:

  • refuse feeds
  • be agitated and not want to be picked up
  • have a bulging soft spot on their head (fontanelle)
  • be floppy or unresponsive
  • have an unusual high-pitched cry
  • have a stiff body

These symptoms can develop in any order and some may not appear.

Page last reviewed: 12/04/2016

Next review due: 01/04/2019