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Meningitis symptoms in adults

Meningitis and septicaemia* can happen together. They can affect anyone at any age. Be aware of all the signs and symptoms. Someone with meningitis or septicaemia can get worse very quickly; keep checking them and get medical help if you are concerned. Symptoms can appear in any order and some may not appear at all.

*Many medical experts now use the term sepsis instead of septicaemia

Harrison M bacterial meningitis case study

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 an adult is ill and getting worse, get medical help immediately. Someone with meningitis or septicaemia can get a lot worse very quickly. Keep checking them.

Trust your instincts – Get medical help immediately

Adults Get It Too

A study carried out for us* reveals that 96% of people aged over 65 do not consider themselves to be at risk from meningitis and septicaemia, despite the risk of meningitis increasing in older adults. The study also highlights that three-quarters of this age group are not confident in recognising the signs and symptoms of the disease.

That's why we're calling on people over 65 to learn the signs and symptoms to help look after themselves and their loved ones. Without vaccines for all types of meningitis, remaining vigilant is vital. You can download an awareness guide that includes the signs and symptoms of meningitis and information about meningitis in adults.

We are also looking for people over 65 who have had meningitis to share their story, to help raise awareness. Can you help?

*Populous Research undertook a survey of 1,100 adults across the UK to understand adult attitudes to meningitis and the level of risk they think the disease poses to them.

Download more information about meningitis in adults.

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

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