Skip to main content

Symptoms - Meningitis

Symptoms of meningitis can appear in any order. Some may not appear at all. In the early stages, there may not be a rash, or the rash may fade on pressure.

You should get medical help immediately if you're concerned about yourself or your child.

Trust your instincts and do not wait until a rash develops.

Symptoms of meningitis, septicaemia and meningococcal disease include:

  • a high temperature
  • cold hands and feet
  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • breathing quickly
  • muscle and joint pain
  • pale, mottled or blotchy skin
  • spots or a rash
  • headache
  • a stiff neck
  • a dislike of bright lights
  • being very sleepy or difficult to wake
  • fits (seizures)

Babies may also:

  • refuse feeds
  • be irritable
  • have a high-pitched cry
  • have a stiff body or be floppy or unresponsive
  • have a bulging soft spot on the top of their head

Someone with meningitis, septicaemia or meningococcal disease can get a lot worse very quickly.

Call 999 for an ambulance or go to your nearest A&E 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.

Coronavirus

At the moment it can be hard to know what to do if your child is unwell. 

It's important to trust your instincts and get medical help if you need it.

Meningitis rash

Picture of meningitis rash on legs and feet of a white-skinned child
The rash usually starts as small, red pinpricks before spreading quickly and turning into red or purple blotches
Credit:

Mediscan / Alamy Stock Photo

https://www.alamy.com/meningococcal-rash-image1683649.html?pv=1&stamp=2&imageid=83D4AFC7-AC4B-4271-B09C-727E90532943&p=17774&n=0&orientation=0&pn=1&searchtype=0&IsFromSearch=1&srch=foo%3dbar%26st%3d0%26pn%3d1%26ps%3d100%26sortby%3d2%26resultview%3dsortbyPopular%26npgs%3d0%26qt%3dATB0C2%26qt_raw%3dATB0C2%26lic%3d3%26mr%3d0%26pr%3d0%26ot%3d0%26creative%3d%26ag%3d0%26hc%3d0%26pc%3d%26blackwhite%3d%26cutout%3d%26tbar%3d1%26et%3d0x000000000000000000000%26vp%3d0%26loc%3d0%26imgt%3d0%26dtfr%3d%26dtto%3d%26size%3d0xFF%26archive%3d1%26groupid%3d%26pseudoid%3d788068%26a%3d%26cdid%3d%26cdsrt%3d%26name%3d%26qn%3d%26apalib%3d%26apalic%3d%26lightbox%3d%26gname%3d%26gtype%3d%26xstx%3d0%26simid%3d%26saveQry%3d%26editorial%3d1%26nu%3d%26t%3d%26edoptin%3d%26customgeoip%3d%26cap%3d1%26cbstore%3d1%26vd%3d0%26lb%3d%26fi%3d2%26edrf%3d0%26ispremium%3d1%26flip%3d0%26pl%3d

Picture of meningitis rash on white skin with glass held against it
It does not fade if you press the side of a clear glass firmly against the skin
Credit:

Alamy Stock Photo

https://www.alamy.com/testing-of-meningococcal-rash-image589611.html?pv=1&stamp=2&imageid=6C8D2A33-C874-43AF-A58B-398C0D9552AF&p=17774&n=0&orientation=0&pn=1&searchtype=0&IsFromSearch=1&srch=foo%3dbar%26st%3d0%26pn%3d1%26ps%3d100%26sortby%3d2%26resultview%3dsortbyPopular%26npgs%3d0%26qt%3dA8FF2B%26qt_raw%3dA8FF2B%26lic%3d3%26mr%3d0%26pr%3d0%26ot%3d0%26creative%3d%26ag%3d0%26hc%3d0%26pc%3d%26blackwhite%3d%26cutout%3d%26tbar%3d1%26et%3d0x000000000000000000000%26vp%3d0%26loc%3d0%26imgt%3d0%26dtfr%3d%26dtto%3d%26size%3d0xFF%26archive%3d1%26groupid%3d%26pseudoid%3d195878%26a%3d%26cdid%3d%26cdsrt%3d%26name%3d%26qn%3d%26apalib%3d%26apalic%3d%26lightbox%3d%26gname%3d%26gtype%3d%26xstx%3d0%26simid%3d%26saveQry%3d%26editorial%3d1%26nu%3d%26t%3d%26edoptin%3d%26customgeoip%3d%26cap%3d1%26cbstore%3d1%26vd%3d0%26lb%3d%26fi%3d2%26edrf%3d0%26ispremium%3d1%26flip%3d0%26pl%3d

Picture of meningitis rash on the leg and foot of dark-skinned child
The rash can be harder to see on dark skin. Check paler areas, such as the palms of the hands, soles of the feet , roof of the mouth, tummy, whites of the eyes or the inside of the eyelids.
Credit:

Meningitis Research UK

https://hscic365.sharepoint.com/sites/Pilot/NHSUK/Health%20AZ/Forms/AllItems.aspx?id=%2Fsites%2FPilot%2FNHSUK%2FHealth%20AZ%2FHealth%20A%2DZ%2FA%2DZ%20content%20audit%2FM%2FMeningitis%2FImage%20and%20section%20review%2007%202019%2FRe%5FPhotography%20of%20the%20meningitis%20rash%2Eeml&parent=%2Fsites%2FPilot%2FNHSUK%2FHealth%20AZ%2FHealth%20A%2DZ%2FA%2DZ%20content%20audit%2FM%2FMeningitis%2FImage%20and%20section%20review%2007%202019

If a rash does not fade under a glass, it can be a sign of sepsis (sometimes called septicaemia or blood poisoning) caused by meningitis and you should call 999 straight away.

Can you help us?

We are looking for volunteers to give us feedback on the coronavirus (COVID-19) information on the NHS website.

If you are interested, take this survey.

Page last reviewed: 8 March 2019
Next review due: 8 March 2022