Meningitis Symptoms and Treatments

Symptoms of Childhood Illnesses

Headaches are very common in children and teens and can sometimes disrupt their daily activities.
Headaches are very common in children and teens and usually aren't a sign of meningitis. Photo by Diane Diederich

Parents always seem to be worried about meningitis, so it is a good idea to review and learn about the symptoms of meningitis, both so that you don't worry unnecessarily when your child obviously doesn't have meningitis symptoms and also so that you recognize when he might.

Fortunately, a sore throat or sore neck, which are very common symptoms, are not usually signs or symptoms of meningitis.

Instead, the more classic sign of meningitis is a stiff neck.

This is why your pediatrician will often ask your child to look at the ceiling and down at his toes if he suspects that your child might have meningitis.

Meningitis Symptoms

In addition to a stiff neck, other common meningitis symptoms can include:

  • severe headache
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • irritability
  • seizures
  • mental status changes, such as lethargy, delirium, hallucinations, etc.
  • a bulging fontanel in infants whose fontanel or soft spot hasn't closed yet
  • a rash

Unfortunately, meningitis is sometimes hard to diagnose, and some children will not have classic symptoms and may just have a fever, headache, or irritability.

Meningitis Tests

If your pediatrician suspects that your child has meningitis, then he will likely do a lumbar puncture or spinal tap.

In addition to helping your pediatrician figure out if your child has meningitis, a spinal tap will determine if it is viral meningitis or bacterial meningitis, which is important, as they have very different treatments.

What To Know About Meningitis

Other things to know about meningitis include:

  • There are many different meningitis vaccines that can help to prevent meningitis, just as there are many different types of meningitis.
  • Some forms of bacterial meningitis are contagious and can cause your child to develop bacterial meningitis if exposed. Fortunately, your child can often take a preventative antibiotic in these situations.
  • While contagious, most forms of viral meningitis won't cause your child to have meningitis, instead, he or she will likely develop less serious viral symptoms.

Call your pediatrician or seek immediate medical attention if you think that your child might have meningitis.


CDC. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 13th Edition.

Plotkin: Vaccines, 5th ed.

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