Every SECOND counts. If you suspect meningitis, GET MEDICAL HELP IMMEDIATELY. Call or see your doctor / Call an ambulance / Get to a hospital.

Meningitis Symptoms

Meningitis can kill in hours. Don’t ignore the symptoms. Trust your instincts. Seek immediate medical attention. Prompt action saves lives.

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

Most cases of meningitis start with a high fever, severe headache and stiff neck (however a stiff neck is an uncommon symptom in young children). Vomiting and drowsiness 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.

Know the symptoms

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Stiff Neck

Fever, possibly with cold hands and feet


Refusing feeds or vomiting


High pitched moaning cry or whimpering


Dislike of being  handled or fretful

Light Sensitivity

Neck retraction with arching of back

Drowsiness or Confusion

Blank & staring expression

Joint Pain

Child is difficult to wake, lethargic


Pale, blotchy complexion

A rash may also occur with some forms of meningitis.  You can test whether a rash is caused by meningococcal bacteria, by pressing a glass against it. If you can still see the rash through the glass, there's a high chance that it's a meningococcal rash. 

Remember - Not everyone who gets meningitis has a rash. It's an important symptom, but don’t delay seeking medical help just because someone doesn't have a rash.

Trust your instincts - If concerned, see a doctor immediately! 
Don’t hesitate to return to the doctor or hospital immediately if the person deteriorates or you are still concerned.


Disclaimer - The Meningitis Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand promotes the prevention, control and awareness of meningitis. It is not a professional medical authority. The text on this website provides general information about meningitis and septicaemia, not medical advice. It is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of these diseases. Please consult your doctor to discuss the information or if you are concerned someone may be ill.

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