Meningococcal Disease Symptoms and Complications

Key Points

  • Meningitis and bloodstream infections are the two most common types of meningococcal infections.
  • Both are serious and can be deadly in a matter of hours.
  • Symptoms of meningococcal disease can first appear as a flu-like illness and rapidly worsen.
  • Seek medical attention immediately for symptoms of meningococcal disease.
A woman with a headache


Illustration of common symptoms of meningitis.
Fever, stiff neck, and headache are common meningitis symptoms.

Meningococcal meningitis

The most common symptoms of meningitis include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck

There are often additional symptoms, such as

  • Altered mental status (confusion)
  • Nausea
  • Photophobia (eyes being more sensitive to light)
  • Vomiting

Symptoms in babies

Babies may not have the classic symptoms listed above. If they do, it may be difficult to notice the symptoms.

Instead, babies may

  • Appear to be slow or inactive
  • Be irritable
  • Feed poorly
  • Have a bulging anterior fontanelle (the soft spot of the skull)
  • Have abnormal reflexes
  • Vomit

Bloodstream infection

Symptoms of a bloodstream infection may include:

  • Cold hands and feet
  • Diarrhea or nausea with or without vomiting
  • Fatigue (feeling tired)
  • Fever and chills
  • Rapid breathing
  • Severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest, or abdomen (belly)
  • In the later stages, a dark purple rash

Complications and when to seek help

Even with antibiotic treatment, 10 to 15 in 100 people with meningococcal disease will die.

One in 5 survivors will have long-term disabilities, such as:

  • Brain damage
  • Deafness
  • Loss of limb(s)
  • Nervous system problems

When to seek medical care‎

Call a healthcare provider right away if you think you or your child might have meningococcal disease.