We use necessary cookies that allow our site to work. We also set optional cookies that help us improve our website For more information about the types of cookies we use, visit our Cookies policy and manage your preferences.


What is meningitis?

Find out what meningitis is, how to recognise it & what to do if you suspect meningitis

Meningitis signs & symptoms
Harmonie-Rose Meningitis Now Junior Ambassador

Meningitis explained

Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. Some bacteria that cause meningitis can also cause septicaemia* (blood poisoning)

Key facts about meningitis

  • Meningitis can affect anyone of any age
  • Meningitis can kill
  • Meningitis can cause long-term after-effects
  • Viral and bacterial are the most common causes of meningitis
  • No vaccine provides 100% protection against meningitis
  • Early signs and symptoms can appear similar to 'flu' or a stomach bug

Types of meningitis

Many different viruses, bacteria and fungi can cause meningitis. In the UK, viruses and bacteria are the most common causes.

Viral meningitis

Viral meningitis is the most common cause of meningitis and for some can cause life-changing after-effects.

Bacterial meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is life-threatening and requires urgent medical attention. Many different bacteria can cause meningitis.

Meningococcal disease

Meningococcal disease is a life-threatening infection. It is the term used to describe two major illnesses – meningitis and septicaemia caused by meningococcal bacteria.

Symptoms of meningitis

Meningitis symptoms can appear in any order and some may not appear at all. Early symptoms of meningitis include fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain, stomach cramps and a fever with cold hands and feet.

Treatment for meningitis

Treatment for meningitis will depend on the cause. Those with suspected meningitis will need tests in hospital to confirm the diagnosis and determine the cause. Urgent antibiotic treatment is given when bacterial meningitis is suspected.

Call our nurse-led helpline

Call our helpline 0808 80 10 388 or email helpline@meningitisnow.org

Contact our nurse-led Helpline


Your donation will help us save lives through research into lifesaving vaccines and spreading awareness and change lives after meningitis, helping people to rebuild their futures with our specialist support.