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Meningitis and Septicaemia - Common Signs and Symptoms

Children and Adults
Glass test

Remember - meningitis and septicaemia often occur together. If you suspect someone has meningitis, seek medical help immediately - every minute counts.

Babies and Toddlers

Common signs and symptoms in infants may include:

  • fever, but cold hands and feet
  • vomiting
  • refusing food
  • drowsy, tricky to wake
  • floppy, listless or unresponsive
  • pale, blotchy skin
  • spots (rash) - see glass test
  • rapid breathing or grunting
  • dislike being handled, fretful
  • unusual cry or moaning

These symptoms may not all appear, and can occur in any order and at the same time.

Children and Adults

Common signs and symptoms in children and adults can include:

  • severe headache
  • stiff neck
  • fever with cold hands and feet
  • aversion to bright lights (and/or sometimes loud noises)
  • vomiting
  • spots or rash - see glass test
  • severe muscle pain
  • stomach cramps and diarrhoea
  • drowsiness / sleepiness, difficult to wake
  • confusion, irritability

As with infants, these symptoms can appear in any order, and some may not occur at all.

Glass Test

Press the side of a clear glass against the skin over the rash. If the rash does not fade under pressure, this can be a sign of meningococcal septicaemia.

Note that this rash may not always appear in meningitis, so if other symptoms are present it is a good idea to see a doctor. The rash may also initially fade, so if you suspect meningitis, keep checking it and see a doctor.


This page was adapted from information supplied by The Meningitis Trust, a registered charity that relies on donations to provide emotional and practical support to those affected by meningitis.

Meningitis Trust website:

If you want help or information, there is a 24 hour nurse-lead helpline available on 0800 028 1828