What are the symptoms?

Meningococcal disease is often misdiagnosed because early symptoms can be similar to the flu or other viral infections. Even those who have been vaccinated against meningococcal disease should be aware of the symptoms so they can watch for it in themselves or in others.

Courtesy of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases

Meningococcal bacteria attach to the mucosal lining of the nose and throat where they can multiply and then enter the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria can swell the lining of the brain and spinal cord. This is called meningitis. They can also poison the blood and cause meningococcemia or sepsis. Once the bacteria have poisoned the blood, the infection can cause severe damage to many organs as well as the limbs and skin (see video animation).

The symptoms* of meningococcal disease can vary depending on the illness:

Symptoms of Meningococcemia Symptoms of Both Symptoms of Meningitis
Pale or mottled skin, purplish rash Very sleepy & vacant Sensitivity to bright light
Shivering & cold High fever Seizures
Breathing fast & breathless Confused & delirious Severe headaches
Limb, joint & muscle pain Vomiting Stiff neck

Symptoms in Infants: Some of the symptoms most commonly associated with meningitis, such as high fever, stiff neck or headache might not appear or might be difficult to detect in babies or infants who have the disease.

*Symptoms can vary and may come on suddenly and/or severely. Please contact your healthcare provider with questions.

Downloadable Symptoms Body Diagram

Click here to download the following “Meningococcal Disease Systems” diagram below as a PDF.

symptoms-venn-diagram