This infection causes these membranes (the meninges) to become inflamed, which in some cases can damage the nerves and brain.
Signs and symptoms of meningitis
Anyone can get meningitis, but babies and young children under five years of age are most at risk. A baby or young child with meningitis may:
- have a high fever, with cold hands and feet
- vomit and refuse to feed
- feel 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
The above symptoms can appear in any order, and some may not appear at all.
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.
However, don’t wait for a rash to develop. If your child is unwell and getting worse, seek medical help immediately.
In older children, teenagers and adults, the symptoms of meningitis can include:
- a 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)
- convulsion or seizures
Again, these symptoms can appear in any order, and not everyone will get all of them.
Don’t wait for a rash to develop. Seek immediate medical help if someone is unwell and displays the symptoms of meningitis.