Signs and Symptoms of Meningitis

Meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges (the membrane lining of the brain and spinal cord).

Symptoms can occur in any order: they may not occur at the same time and may not all be present.

Meningitis Symptoms Card

Someone with meningitis will become very ill. The illness may progress over one or two days but it can also develop very rapidly, sometimes in a matter of hours.

Most cases of meningitis start with a high fever, severe headache and neck stiffness (however neck stiffness is an uncommon symptom in young children). Vomiting and drowisness often follow. The person may complain of discomfort when looking at bright lights* (*however this is also an uncommon symptom in young children). In some cases a rash may appear.

If you suspect meningitis, seek urgent medical attention. Do not wait for a rash* to appear.

*The rash may start as a pink rash or a pink, purple or red spot. It can also appear as pink, red, purple or brownish coloured pin prick spots which may develop into a bruise like rash. The rash can start anywhere on the body and is due to blood poisoning (septicaemia), which sometimes occurs together with meningitis. The rash does not usually fade when pressed (however this is not always a dependable test). The rash is caused by bleeding into the skin. The rash should be taken seriously. Seek urgent medical attention.


Septicaemia can also affect adults, children and infants. Some bacteria that cause meningitis can also cause septicaemia (blood poisoning).

Septicemia can develop quickly. For signs and symptoms of meningococcal septicaemia; see the Septicaemia - signs and symptoms section of this website.

If you have a health concern and you’re not sure what to do, simply call Healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222 and speak with a registered nurse. 

If you are concerned about someone's health, or suspect they may have meningitis and/or septicaemia seek urgent medical attention. 

Don't hesitate to return to the doctor or hospital immediately if the person deteriorates or you are still concerned.

Download (280 k) Meningitis and Septicaemia Symptom card.



The Meningitis Centre is a 'not for profit' support organisation based in Australia, not a professional medical authority. Consequently the text on this web site provides general information about meningitis and septicaemia, not medical advice. Please consult your doctor to discuss the information or if you are concerned someone may be ill.