Meningitis: Symptoms and Treatment

Meningitis is a serious infection and can be life-threatening if it’s not treated quickly. It can affect anyone and symptoms can develop incredibly fast.

There are two types of meningitis: viral and bacterial meningitis and both affect the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (meninges). Viral is most commonly seen and bacterial meningitis can cause blood poisoning – which may show up as a rash of tiny red pinpricks that develop into purple blotches. If this rash fails the ‘glass test’ (it doesn’t fade when you roll a glass firmly over the affected area), you should call 999 immediately.

Possible symptoms in babies and infants

A rash isn’t the only sign of meningitis; so if your child has any of the other symptoms listed below, seek medical assistance immediately:

  • High fever (possibly with cold hands and feet)

  • Vomiting and refusing feeds

  • High pitched moaning or whimpering cry

  • Blank staring expression

  • Pale, itchy complexion

  • Floppiness

  • Dislike of being handled

  • Fretfulness

  • Neck retraction with arching of back

  • Convulsions

  • Lethargic and difficult to wake

  • Tense or bulging fontanelle (soft spot on head)

Possible symptoms in older children

  • Constant generalised headache

  • Confusion

  • High fever (possibly with cold hands and feet)

  • Drowsiness

  • Vomiting

  • Stomach pain, sometimes with diarrhoea

  • Rapid breathing

  • Neck stiffness; moving the chin to the chest is painful at the back of the neck

  • Rash of red or purple spots or bruises that do not fade when you press a glass tumbler or finger on them. This may not be present in the early stages

  • Joint or muscle pain

  • Sensitivity to bright lights, daylight or even the television

When to seek medical advice

If you recognise any of these symptoms and you're concerned that you or your child could have meningitis, you should get medical advice as soon as possible.

Call 999 for an ambulance or go to your nearest A&E department immediately if you think you or your child might be seriously ill.

Call NHS 111 or your GP surgery for advice if you're not sure if it's anything serious or you think you may have been exposed to someone with meningitis.

If it’s clear that you have none of the symptoms, but you’re still worried about what the cause of them might be, please speak to your RP or local Alphega pharmacist for advice.

meningitis

Summary

Meningitis is a serious infection and can be life-threatening if it’s not treated quickly. It can affect anyone and symptoms can develop incredibly fast. If you think you or a member of your family has meningitis you should seek medical advice immediately. Call 999 for an ambulance or go to your nearest A&E department, or call NHS 111 for advice.