Meningitis means swelling of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. It can be hard to recognise at first. Symptoms can appear in any order but the first symptoms are usually fever, cold hands and feet, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell, just like many mild illnesses.

Further symptoms include:

  • Severe headache.
  • Stiff neck (less common in young children).
  • Dislike of bright lights (less common in young children).
  • Very sleepy, vacant or difficult to wake.
  • Confused or delirious.
  • Seizures.
  • Rash (anywhere on the body but not present in all cases).

Babies and toddlers may also:

  • Refuse to feed or eat.
  • Not want to be held or touched.
  • Have a stiff body with jerky movements, or floppy, unable to stand up.
  • Have a tense or bulging soft spot (fontanelle) on the top of the head.

The glass test
You can check a rash by pressing the side of a clear glass firmly against the skin. If the rash fades and loses colour under pressure it is not a meningitis rash. If the spots DO NOT change colour, you should seek medical help immediately.

Meningitis is NOT a minor illness. Trust your instincts – If you suspect your child may have some of the signs and symptoms act fast and seek medical advice immediately by calling NHS 111 or going to A&E.

Find out more at the NHS website.

Last modified: 

10 Sep 2018