Skip to content

Children's Vaccines Health Center

Font Size

Meningitis - Symptoms

Symptoms of bacterial meningitis usually appear suddenly.

Symptoms of viral meningitis may appear suddenly or develop gradually over a period of days. For example, the symptoms of viral meningitis after mumps may take several days or weeks to develop.

Recommended Related to Children's Vaccines

Surviving Meningitis: Carl Buher’s Story

On an autumn day in 2003, Carl Buher came down with a high fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, and exhaustion. His parents, Curt and Lori Buher, thought he had flu, like his football buddies. But when Carl became disoriented and developed purple splotches all over his face and arms, they rushed him to the doctor. The Mt. Vernon, Wash., 14-year-old had contracted meningococcal disease, also known as bacterial meningitis, a rare but potentially deadly infection that can kill a healthy young person...

Read the Surviving Meningitis: Carl Buher’s Story article > >

The most common symptoms of either form of meningitis include:

  • Fever.
  • Severe and persistent headache.
  • Stiff and painful neck, especially when trying to touch the chin to the chest.
  • Vomiting.
  • Confusion and decreased level of consciousness.
  • Seizures.

Less common symptoms include:

Babies, young children, older adults, and people with other medical conditions may not have the usual symptoms of meningitis.

  • In babies, the signs of meningitis may be a fever, irritability that is difficult to calm, decreased appetite, rash, vomiting, and a shrill cry. Babies also may have a stiff body and bulging soft spots on the head that aren't caused by crying. Babies with meningitis may cry when handled.
  • Young children with meningitis may act like they have the flu (influenza), cough, or have trouble breathing.
  • Older adults and people with other medical conditions may have only a slight headache and fever. They may not feel well and may have little energy.

Other conditions with symptoms similar to meningitis include viral hepatitis and flu.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    Baby getting vaccinated
    Is there a link? Get the facts.
    syringes and graph illustration
    Get a customized vaccine schedule.
    baby getting a vaccine
    Know the benefits and the risk
    nurse holding syringe in front of girl
    Should your child have it?

    What To Know About The HPV Vaccine
    24 Kid Illnesses Parents Should Know
    Nausea and Vomiting Remedies Slideshow
    Managing Immunization Schedules For Kids

    Doctor administering vaccine to toddler
    gloved hand holding syringe
    infant receiving injection

    WebMD Special Sections