Symptoms of Meningitis

Meningitis is a rare but serious disease, so it's important to learn the symptoms.

Be on the lookout for these signs in you or your family:

  • Stiff neck that sometimes makes it hard to touch your chin to your chest
  • Headache, which can be severe
  • High fever
  • Confusion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Discomfort from bright lights
  • Sleepiness
  • Seizures
  • Rash

Sometimes these symptoms follow a flu-like illness, ear infection, or sinus infection.

If your child is too young to talk, you may have a hard time noticing these symptoms. So in babies and young children, watch for things like:

  • Fever
  • Acts sluggish
  • Irritable
  • Difficulty feeding
  • High-pitched cry
  • Red or purple spots on the skin
  • Cries when held
  • Arches back

How fast meningitis symptoms develop can vary. Bacterial meningitis symptoms come on quickly, usually over a period of hours. With viral meningitis, symptoms might appear over several days.

When to See a Doctor

Children or adults with bacterial meningitis -- the most serious type -- usually become very ill quickly.

Even though the odds of getting meningitis are small, you should still play it safe. If you or a family member have had contact with someone who has meningitis -- or you notice any symptoms of the disease -- give your doctor a call. If the symptoms are severe, go to the emergency room right away. Prompt treatment for meningitis can make all the difference.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Lisa Bernstein, MD on March 27, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: "Meningococcal Disease," "Use of Meningitis Vaccine in People with Cochlear Implants."

eMedicine: "Meningitis."

The Journal of the American Medical Association: "Meningitis." 

Meningitis Foundation of America: "Symptoms," "FAQ."

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