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Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (meninges).

It can affect anyone but is most common in babies, young children, teenagers and young adults.

It is very serious and needs treating quickly. It can cause life-threatening blood poisoning (septicaemia) and result in permanent damage to the brain or nerves.

Symptoms of meningitis

  • Fever (High temperature) 38C (100.4F) and above
  • Being sick
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Dislike of bright lights
  • Blotchy rash that doesn’t disappear when a glass is pressed over it
  • Drowsiness
  • Cannot be roused, lack of energy
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Breathing rapidly
  • Pale mottled skin
  • Seizure (fits)

Babies may also:

  • Refuse to feed
  • Be floppy and hard to rouse
  • Be stiff
  • Have an unusually high pitched cry
  • Be fretful and not want to be held
  • Have a swollen fontanelle (soft spot on the top of their head)

Your child may not get all of these symptoms but trust your feelings and seek urgent medical attention if you are concerned that your child may have meningitis.

Meningitis rash

Don’t wait for the rash to appear before seeking medical advice

Meningitis rash         Meningitis glass test

If there is a rash and it doesn’t fade when you press a glass on it, get medical advice immediately.

In a darker skinned child, if the rash is more difficult to see, check paler areas like the tummy, palms of the hands and soles of the feet, behind the ears or the roof of the mouth.

Call 999 or go to your nearest Accident and Emergency (A&E) department if you feel that your child may be seriously ill.

If you’re not sure but are worried, call your GP or NHS 111 for advice.

This video was not produced by Health for Under 5’s and may contain adverts.

Vaccinations against meningitis

Your child will be offered meningitis vaccinations as part of their routine vaccination schedule.

Vaccinations offer some protection against certain causes of meningitis.

These include the:

  • Meningitis B vaccine – offered to babies aged 8 weeks, followed by a second dose at 16 weeks and a booster at 1 year
  • 6-in-1 vaccine – offered to babies at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age
  • Pneumococcal vaccine – offered to babies born before 1 January 2020 at 8 and 16 weeks and 1 year of age; babies born on or after 1 January 2020 have 2 doses at 12 weeks and 1 year
  • Hib/MenC vaccine – offered to babies at 1 year of age
  • MMR vaccine – offered to babies at 1 year and a second dose at 3 years and 4 months

Meningitis ACWY vaccine – offered to teenagers, sixth formers and “fresher” students going to university for the first time

Useful links

Page last reviewed: 23-06-2021

Next review due: 23-06-2024