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Meningitis symptoms in children & teenagers

Children under five are the most at risk group for meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia, with teenagers and young adults (16-25) being the next at risk group. Knowing the signs and symptoms, trusting your instincts and getting medical help immediately can save lives.

DO NOT WAIT FOR A RASH. If someone is ill and getting worse, get medical help immediately.

Common signs and symptoms of meningitis & septicaemia

Symptoms can appear in any order. Some may not appear at all.











Meningitis and septicaemia often happen together. It is important to be aware of all the signs and symptoms.

If you suspect meningitis or septicaemia, get medical help immediately

Emergency numbers

Glass test

Meningitis types and causes

Meningitis support


Key facts

  • Meningitis kills more children under five than any other infectious disease in the UK.
  • Meningitis is the disease parents fear the most.
  • 50% of all cases of meningitis occur in the under five age group.
  • One in four students carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis at the back of their throats, compared to one in ten of the UK population.
  • All students attending university for the first time can ask their GP for a Men C vaccine, whatever their age.

Why are children under five at risk of meningitis?

  • Young children under five (and babies) are particularly vulnerable to meningitis as they cannot easily fight infection because their immune system is not yet fully developed.

Why are teenagers and young adults (16-25) at risk of meningitis?

  • concerned mum with daughterOne in four students carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis at the back of their throats, compared to one in ten of the UK population. This is due to increased social interaction (snogging), so the bacteria can be passed on more easily.
  • Large numbers of students living together in university halls of residence and shared housing can help bacteria to spread from person to person, especially when young people come together from all over the country - and indeed world - to live in one place.
  • The student lifestyle can often include lots of late nights and prolonged intimate contact, which adds to the risk of contracting meningitis.
  • As the symptoms of meningitis can disguise themselves as other things such as common illnesses like flu, or maybe a hangover, it’s easy to mistake meningitis for something else.
  • When students go off to university, it is often the first time they are living away from their parents and, more often than not, their own health and wellbeing is not a priority for them. With no parents to keep an eye on their health, meningitis can get missed. Always let someone know if you are feeling unwell. They can check up on you and get help if needed.
  • Every autumn we do a college and university awareness campaign across the UK, raising vital awareness of the symptoms of meningitis and urging students to look after themselves and their friends.

Protecting children, teenagers and young adults

  • There are several vaccines available to babies and toddlers in the UK to help protect against some strains of meningitis. Check with your GP to ensure vaccines are up-to-date.
  • All students attending university for the first time can ask their GP for a Men C vaccine, whatever their age.
  • Unfortunately there isn’t a vaccine to protect against all strains of meningitis, so knowledge of the signs and symptoms of the disease, remaining vigilant and getting medical help quickly is vital.  
  • We produce symptoms cards in credit-card size, so that it can be kept easily inside a purse or wallet. Our symptoms cards are free to anyone please download one here or call our freephone helpline on 0808 80 10 388 to get yours.

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Meningitis Now is the new name for Meningitis UK and the Meningitis Trust. Our goals remain the same – saving lives and rebuilding futures.

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The glass test

A rash which does not fade under pressure is a sign of meningococcal septicaemia and is a medical emergency.
Read more.

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