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Children's Vaccines Health Center

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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.

Recommended Related to Children's Vaccines

Chickenpox (Varicella) Vaccine

Pick any adult out of a crowd. The odds that he or she has had chickenpox are pretty good. But those odds are changing now that we have the chickenpox vaccine.

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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:

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.

    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.
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