Meningitis Symptoms Warning Signs

Medically Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on July 03, 2021

It's not easy to spot the symptoms of meningitis. People often confuse the early signs and symptoms of meningitis with the flu. In fact, meningitis may come on the heels of a flu-like illness or infection. That's why it's important to stay alert, learn the hallmark signs and symptoms of meningitis, and act quickly. It may help save a life.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Meningitis

Bacterial and viral meningitis symptoms may develop within hours or days. 

Fever, severe headache, and neck stiffness are the hallmark symptoms of meningitis. Others include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion and disorientation (acting "goofy")
  • Drowsiness or sluggishness
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Poor appetite
  • More severe symptoms include seizure and coma.

In infants, symptoms may include fever, irritability, poor feeding, and lethargy. Additionally, the soft spot on the top of the head may appear to be bulging.

Other Potential Signs and Symptoms of Meningococcal Disease

These are additional signs and symptoms of meningococcal infection that has entered the bloodstream:


When to Seek Medical Care for Possible Symptoms of Meningitis

If you suspect that your child or someone you know has meningitis, seek medical care right away.

  • Call the doctor and describe the signs and symptoms.
  • Go immediately to the nearest emergency room if a doctor is not reachable right away. The person who is sick should not drive. Call 911 if transportation is not available.


Show Sources


Meningitis Research Foundation: "Symptoms." 

The Meningitis Trust: "Symptoms of Meningitis and Meningococcal Septicaemia." 

National Meningitis Association: "About Meningococcal Disease.

CDC: "Meningitis: Signs & Symptoms."

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