Meningitis symptoms in children

Find out meningitis symptoms in children, teenagers and young people here. Meningitis and septicaemia can happen together, and if you are unsure about the condition of your child be sure to seek medical help immediately

Signs and symptoms of meningitis - children and adults

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

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

Common signs & symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia in children, teenagers and young people.

  • Adult with a fever

    Fever, cold hands and feet

  • Adult 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


Early symptoms can include:

Fever, headache, vomiting, muscle pain and fever with cold hands and feet.

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

Trust your instincts – Get medical help immediately

Get medical help immediately

Who is at risk?

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

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 five main groups of meningococcal bacteria that commonly cause disease are groups A, B, C, W 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.

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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