The common symptoms of meningitis include the sudden onset of high fever, nausea, headache and stiffness in the neck, according to Mayo Clinic. More serious symptoms such as disorientation, seizures, skin rashes and discomfort in the presence of bright light can also occur.
The symptoms of meningitis present differently in infants and children under the age of two, notes Mayo Clinic. In newborns and infants, the signs of meningitis include persistent crying; lack of appetite; lethargy; excessive drowsiness; unusual fussiness and irritability; and stiffness in the limbs, body and neck. A critical symptom of meningitis in newborns is swelling in the fontanel, the soft spot on an infant's head. Infants and toddlers suffering from meningitis can also be difficult to soothe and may resist efforts to comfort them.
Meningitis affects the brain and spinal cord, causing inflammation in the lining that surrounds them, says WebMD. In most cases, an infection is the cause. Meningitis can be caused by either a viral or a bacterial infection, states Mayo Clinic. Bacterial meningitis, which is relatively rare, is a more serious form of the disease and can be fatal if left untreated. Without a spinal fluid test, it is difficult to distinguish between viral and bacterial meningitis. However, there are specific symptoms that can be indicative of meningococcal meningitis, a highly contagious strain of bacterial meningitis, according to WebMD. These include pale or blotchy skin; rapid breathing; stiffness and pain in the joints; and a dark red or purple rash, which can be a sign of blood poisoning. If any of these symptoms occur, the patient should seek immediate medical assistance.
Meningitis most commonly affects children and young people. Older adults and those with compromised immune systems are also at risk.