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Meningitis symptoms in teenagers and young people

Everyone is at risk; however, teenagers - particularly first year university students - and young people are the second most at-risk group.

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Early symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache 
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Muscle pain
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fever with cold hands and feet

Common signs & symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia

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

  • Adult with a fever Fever, cold hands and feet
  • Adult vomiting Vomiting
  • A sleepy adult Drowsy, difficult to wake
  • A confused adult Confusion and irritability
  • Adult with severe muscle pain Severe muscle pain
  • A pale adult Pale, blotchy skin. Spots/rash
    See the Glass Test
  • Adult looking fretful Severe headache
  • Adult with stiff neck Stiff neck
  • Adult disliking the light Dislike bright lights
  • Adult having convulsions Convulsions/seizures

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

DO NOT wait for a rash. If a child is ill and getting worse, get medical help immediately.

A child with meningitis or septicaemia can get a lot worse very quickly. Keep checking them.

Trust your instincts – Get medical help immediately.

Why are teenagers and young people at risk

Meningococcal bacteria are the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK. One in four 15-19 year olds carry the bacteria in the back of their throats, compared to one in ten of the UK population, which puts them at greater risk.

The six main groups of meningococcal bacteria that commonly cause disease are groups A, B, C, W, X and Y

You can carry the bacteria without becoming unwell (in most cases it will boost your natural immunity)

Meningococcal bacteria are passed from person to person by coughing, sneezing and intimate kissing. Increased social interaction in this age group means the bacteria can be passed on more easily

Meningococcal group W (MenW) has historically been rare in the UK, but in 2009, cases began to increase. A particularly aggressive strain of MenW was causing disease in all age groups but there was a significant increase in university students. The MenACWY vaccine was introduced across the UK in August 2015 in response to the rise in MenW cases. Cases have now fallen due to the success of this vaccine.

Why are first year university students at risk

Students can be more vulnerable to meningitis because of living in more 'cramped' housing or halls of residence. In many cases, young people come together from all over the world to live, study and socialise together. They will be exposed to bacteria and viruses their bodies have not met before. This is why so many new students get ‘freshers' flu’

As early symptoms of meningitis can be similar to common illnesses such as flu or even 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 well-being is not a priority. With no parents to keep an eye on them, meningitis can be missed

Download more information about meningitis in teenagers and young people.

Find out more about meningitis, as well as the symptoms in this short video:

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