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Signs and symptoms

Meningitis and septicaemia can strike quickly and kill within hours.

Knowing the signs and symptoms, remaining vigilant and getting medical help quickly can save lives.

By learning the signs and symptoms of the disease now, you could be saving a life in the future. Visit our resources section for free meningitis literature and download our symptoms app or download our symptoms card.

Signs and symptoms card open 

Babies and toddlers

Children and teenagers

Adults

Be Aware

Meningitis and septicaemia often happen together. Be aware of all the signs and symptomsSomeone with meningitis or septicaemia can get a lot worse very quickly. Keep checking them.

Glass Test

A fever with spots/rash that do not fade under pressure is a medical emergency. Do the Glass test

Glass test

Trust your instincts – if you suspect meningitis or septicaemia get medical help immediately.

You can:

Call NHS 111/NHS 24 (Scotland) 08454 242424 or your GP

In an emergency you can:

Describe the symptoms carefully and say that you think it could be meningitis or septicaemia.
Early diagnosis can be difficult. If you have had advice and are still worried, get medical help again.

Causes of meningitis

There are many different causes of meningitis, but the two most common organisms are viruses and bacteria. No matter what the cause, if you are concerned that someone has meningitis or septicaemia, get immediate medical help.

  • Viral meningitis is usually a mild disease, but it can make people very unwell. Many thousands of cases occur each year, mostly affecting babies and children. Many different viruses can cause meningitis; the most common are a group called enteroviruses. These viruses live in the intestines and can commonly cause colds, sore throats, stomach upsets and diarrhoea. Only rarely do these viruses spread through the body to the meninges and cause meningitis. Although most people will make a full recovery, some are left with serious and debilitating after-effects.
  • Bacterial meningitis can be life-threatening and needs urgent medical attention. Most people who suffer from bacterial meningitis recover, but many can be left with a variety of after-effects and one in 10 will die. The main bacteria that cause meningitis in the UK are Meningococcal Pneumococcal TB and Hib.

Meningococcal bacteria are the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK. These bacteria can cause both meningitis and septicaemia.

Read about meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia in more detail on our facts page. 

If you have questions about the signs and symptoms to look out for you can call our meningitis helpline 0808 80 10 388

Helen's story

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Signs and symptoms card saved my life

Watch her story here

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Our helpline is available to offer advice and answer your meningitis questions.

We are here if you need us

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You can now keep the Meningitis Now signs and symptoms card on your iPhone. Life-saving information at your fingertips

See the meningitis app

The Information Standard