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What are the signs and symptoms?

Meningitis and septicaemia are not always easy to recognise at first. In the early stages, signs and symptoms can be similar to many other more common illnesses, for example flu. Early symptoms can include fever, headache, nausea (feeling sick), vomiting and general tiredness.

Trust your instincts, if you suspect meningitis or septicaemia, get medical help immediately.

The common signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia are shown in the pictures below. Others can include rapid breathing, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and a rash that does not fade under pressure. In babies, check if the soft spot (fontanelle) on the top of the head is tense or bulging.


  • High temp, fever, possibly with cold hands and feet
  • Vomiting, or refusing feeds
  • High pitched moaning, whimpering cry
  • Blank, staring expression
  • Pale, blotchy complexion
  • Baby may be floppy, dislike being handled, be fretful
  • Difficult to wake or lethargic
  • The soft spot on babies heads may be tense or bulging


  • High temp, fever, possibly with cold hands and feet
  • Vomiting, sometimes diarrhoea
  • Severe headache
  • Neck stiffness (unable to touch the chin to the chest)
  • Joint or muscle pains, stomach cramps with septicaemia
  • Dislike of bright lights
  • Drowsiness
  • Fits
  • The person may be confused or disoriented.

Both adults and children may have a rash.

You should know how to recognise the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia.

In some cases, acting quickly to get medical help can mean the difference between life and death.

Remember: Symptoms may sometimes develop slowly, but the person can become ill very quickly.

Symptoms do not appear in any order and some may not appear at all.

What about the rash?

One sign of meningococcal septicaemia is a rash that does not fade under pressure (see ’Glass Test’).

This rash is caused by blood leaking into the tissues under the skin. It starts as tiny pinpricks anywhere on the body. It can spread quickly to look like fresh bruises.

This rash is more difficult to see on darker skin. Look on the paler areas of the skin and under the eyelids.

Glass Test


A rash that does not fade under pressure will still be visible when the side of a clear glass is pressed firmly against the skin.

If someone is ill or obviously getting worse, do not wait for a rash. It may be late to appear or not at all.

A fever with a rash that does not fade under pressure is a medical emergency.

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