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Meningitis symptoms

2-minute read

The symptoms of meningitis in very small children and babies include:

  • fever
  • a bulge in the soft spot on top the head (the fontanelle)
  • unusual or high-pitched crying
  • inactivity or floppiness
  • irritability
  • feeding problems
  • arching of the back
  • fretfulness
  • being difficult to wake
  • purple-red skin rash or bruising
  • pale or blotchy skin
  • having a siezure (fit)
  • holding their head back and arching their back

The most common symptoms of meningitis in older children and adults are:

  • fever
  • very bad headache
  • stiff or sore neck
  • nausea or vomiting and loss of appetite
  • tiredness and drowsiness
  • irritability
  • confusion
  • purple-red skin rash or bruising
  • discomfort looking at bright lights (photophobia)
  • muscles and joint pains
  • seizures (fits)

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.

Meningitis can be a medical emergency. It can kill within hours, so early diagnosis and treatment is vital.

If you are worried that you or someone you care for may have meningitis, see your doctor immediately. If your doctor is not available, go to your nearest emergency department.

Recovery from meningitis

Most people make a full recovery after having meningitis. Some people recover fairly quickly and others more slowly, depending on the type and severity of the illness.

Some people who have had meningitis can have after-effects such as tiredness, mood swings, recurring headaches, and short-term memory loss, although these effects generally recede with time. Occasionally, meningitis can cause long-term problems such hearing loss or epilepsy.

Read more about recovering from meningitis on the Meningitis Centre website.

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Last reviewed: September 2018

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