Signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia

Three students talking outside Carrington

As a student at university, you are at increased risk of serious diseases such as meningitis and septicaemia. Being aware of all the signs and symptoms is essential in looking after yourself and your friends.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. Some bacteria that cause meningitis can also cause septicaemia (blood poisoning) – Meningitis Now.

Anyone can be affected by meningitis and septicaemia, but there are certain factors which may put you at greater risk. These include being a certain age (0-5, 15-24 and over 65), living environment, exposure to passive smoking, mass gatherings and immune system problems – Meningitis Now.

Why is it a concern for students? 

  1. Meningitis is one of the major health risks for young adults in their first year at university. They are the second most ‘at risk’ group for contracting this disease.
  2. Most first year students opt to live in halls. Here they will be living in very close proximity to hundreds of people who they have never encountered before, and who come from all four corners of the country (and from overseas).
  3. One in four of these new friends (15 – 19-year-olds) WILL be carrying meningococcal bacteria, which can cause meningitis in the back of their throats, compared to one in ten of the UK population.
  4. The bacteria can be passed by coughing, sneezing, and intimate kissing. Absolutely everyone gets a cold in their first year at university, so that’s a lot of coughing and sneezing.
  5. Students may become seriously ill without their friends and flatmates being aware. Meningitis does not hang around – it makes people very ill, very quickly – UCAS, 2022.

Early signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia

Meningitis symptoms can appear in any order. Some may not appear at all. If anybody you know has any of the symptoms listed below they need to get urgent medical help. Someone with meningitis or septicaemia can get worse very quickly.

Early symptoms of meningitis can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Muscle pain
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fever with cold hands and feet

*Many medical experts now use the term sepsis instead of septicaemia.

Common signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia:

  • Fever with cold hands and feet
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsy or difficult to wake
  • Confusion and irritability
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Pale blotchy skin, spots or rash (See Glass Test (link))
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Dislike bright lights
  • Convulsions or seizures

DO NOT wait for a rash. If someone is ill and getting worse, trust your instincts – Get medical help immediately.

The symptoms of meningitis can be easily confused with flu, a stomach bug or a hangover. If someone is ill and getting worse, call NHS 111 or your GP straight away. In an emergency dial 999 or go to your nearest A&E.

Important links

Emergency and urgent help


MenACWY vaccine

Meningitis Now

Local GPs and dentist

Medical and general health

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *