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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.

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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:

  • Sluggishness, muscle aches and weakness, and strange feelings (such as tingling) or weakness throughout the body.
  • Eye sensitivity and eye pain from bright lights.
  • Skin rash.
  • Dizzy spells.

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.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 15, 2013
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.
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