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What Is The First Sign Of Meningitis? What To Watch Out For

What Is The First Sign Of Meningitis? What To Watch Out For

Meningitis is an infection that causes the membrane protecting the brain and spinal cord (the meninges) to swell. This may be caused by bacteria, viruses, injuries, cancer, medication, and other sources.

Meningitis is potentially life-threatening. Symptoms can escalate fast without early diagnosis and treatment. Following this, it is important to quickly identify your symptoms correctly.

The symptoms of meningitis can come along abruptly. Signs of illness develop within a week of being exposed to the source of infection. Meningitis is sometimes misidentified as a regular flu because it manifests flu-like symptoms. But what is the first sign of meningitis? To correctly identify the symptoms of meningitis, you have to recognize the early signs of the disease, before it’s too late.

What is the first sign of meningitis?

Everyone is at risk of meningitis. In the first few hours of infection, the patient may display several flu-like symptoms. These symptoms may develop over several hours or days depending on what caused the infection.

Symptoms may vary depending on the age group. Here are the early signs of meningitis you should not ignore:

First sign of meningitis in babies

A large number of viral meningitis infections often occur in children ages five and below. Some of the symptoms may appear to be a regular childhood sickness. But meningitis symptoms develop quickly and get worse fast. If you suspect meningitis symptoms in your baby, seek medical help immediately.

Here are the first signs of meningitis in infants:

  • High temperature
  • Intense shivering
  • Sleeping for longer periods of time
  • Difficulty in breathing or breathing rapidly
  • Refuses to feed
  • Unusual grunting sounds
  • Vomiting, sometimes with diarrhea
  • Rashes or marks and bruises on the skin
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Irritability due to aches and pains
  • Skin is getting paler or bluish
  • Bulging soft spot in the head
  • Moving jerkily or else the body is limp and lifeless

First sign of meningitis in toddlers

The risk of meningitis in toddlers is higher than infants. This is the stage where your child is likely to touch, grab, or try to swallow what is in their surroundings, including toys and dirt. Supervise your child’s playtime especially if they are playing outside. If you notice these following symptoms, seek medical help immediately:

  • High fever
  • Severe headache
  • Shivering
  • Sometimes vomiting
  • Laborious breathing or breathing rapidly
  • Stiff neck (sometimes)
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Confusion
  • Sleepy, vacant when awake
  • Seizures
  • Bulging soft spot on the head
  • Rash on any parts of the body
  • Irritable and refusing to eat
  • Moving jerkily or else the body is limp and lifeless

Fever in Kids: When To Worry and Other Warning Signs

First sign of meningitis in young adults

Meningitis imposes life-threatening dangers to adults as well. Symptoms of the disease can develop as quickly as in a few hours. Recognizing early signs of meningitis is the key to proper treatment before it gets worse. These are the first signs of meningitis in adults:

  • High fever
  • Severe headache
  • Sometimes vomiting
  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Stiff neck
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Pale complexion
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Drowsiness, difficult to wake, absent-minded
  • Breathlessness or rapid breathing
  • Confused and incoherent
  • Seizures
  • Rashes on the skin

First sign of meningitis in elderly

What is the first sign of meningitis when it comes to the elderly? It is often difficult to identify the first signs of meningitis with older people. In most cases, they could be experiencing some of the symptoms as a result of other complications and health conditions. The most definite symptom that can be associated with meningitis is confusion. Here is list of the symptoms you should pay attention to regarding older people:

  • Severe headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Sudden high fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Confused and incoherent
  • Seizures
  • Irritability
  • Stroke

If you observe any of these signs and symptoms, it is best to see your doctor immediately.

Avoiding meningitis

Meningitis can eventually lead to death when not met with proper treatment and medication. Delayed diagnosis may lead to permanent brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities.

Do not skip vaccines that help prevent meningitis. Good hygiene and a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of being infected. Watch what you eat, and keep your surroundings clean and germ-free. Remember, meningitis is potentially deadly. Trust your instincts and don’t wait for the symptoms to become severe and life-threatening.

Key takeaway

The early signs of meningitis include high fevers, severe headaches, and confusion. Early identification of meningitis is key to ensuring successful treatment.

Learn more about Infectious Diseases here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Meningitis – Symptoms and Causes – Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/meningitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350508

Accessed February 7, 2021

Symptoms of Meningitis | Meningitis Research Foundation, https://www.meningitis.org/meningitis/check-symptoms#:~:text=The%20first%20symptoms%20are%20usually,occur%20with%20or%20without%20meningitis.

Accessed February 8, 2021

Meningitis (for Parents) – Nemours Kidshealth, https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/meningitis.html

Accessed February 8, 2021

Meningitis, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/meningitis/

Accessed April 20, 2021

Meningitis, https://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/index.html

Accessed April 20, 2021




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Written by Lhay Ann Boctoy Updated Apr 20, 2021
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel