Signs and symptoms of meningitis
Anyone can get meningitis, but babies and young children under five years of age are most at risk.
IMPORTANT: Don’t wait for a rash to develop. Seek immediate medical help if someone is unwell and displays the symptoms of meningitis, particularly if they are a young child.
A baby or young child with meningitis may:
- have a high fever, with cold hands and feet
- vomit and refuse to feed
- be agitated and not want to be picked up
- become drowsy, floppy and unresponsive
- grunt or breathe rapidly
- have an unusual high-pitched or moaning cry
- have pale, blotchy skin, and a red rash that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it
- have a tense, bulging soft spot on their head (fontanelle)
- have a stiff neck and dislike bright lights
- have convulsions or seizures
These symptoms can appear in any order, and some may not appear at all.
In older children, teenagers and adults, the symptoms of meningitis can include:
- a high fever, with cold hands and feet
- drowsiness and difficulty waking up
- confusion and irritability
- severe muscle pain
- pale, blotchy skin, and a distinctive rash (although not everyone will have this
- a severe headache
- stiff neck
- sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- convulsions or seizures
Again these symptoms can appear in any order, and some may not appear at all.
The glass test
- If you press the side of a clear glass firmly against the skin and the rash doesn’t fade, it’s a sign of meningococcal septicaemia
- A person with septicaemia may have a rash of tiny “pin pricks” that later develops into purple bruising
- NOTE: The rash can be harder to see on dark skin, in which case check for spots on paler areas like the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, on the tummy, inside the eyelids and on the roof of the mouth.
- IMPORTANT: A fever with a rash that doesn’t fade under pressure is a medical emergency, and you should seek immediate medical help