Symptoms in young people

Don't drop out because of meningitis


Meningitis and septicaemia strike suddenly and kill in hours. Babies and young children are most vulnerable but young people and students are the next most at-risk group. This is partly because as they meet new people and move away from home, they also meet new bacteria.

Septicaemia can occur with or without meningitis. Not everyone gets all the symptoms and they can appear in any order.

We suggest young people and students share awareness and care for one another. Don’t assume an illness is a hangover or a touch of flu. Learn the symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia and if you think a friend or housemate is ill:

Check up on them regularly and if you are worried, trust your instincts and seek medical help fast

The tumbler test

Meningitis and septicaemia Tumbler testIf you are seriously worried about someone who is ill, don’t wait for a rash to appear – get medical help. But if they are already ill and get a new rash or spots, use the Tumbler Test.

Press a clear glass tumbler firmly against the rash. If you can see the marks clearly through the glass seek urgent medical help immediately.

A rash caused by septicaemia

Check the entire body. Look out for tiny red or brown pin-prick marks which can change into larger red or purple blotches and blood blisters.

The septicaemia rash on dark skin

The darker the skin the harder it is to see a septicaemic rash so check lighter areas like the palms of hands and soles of feet or look inside the eyelids and the roof of the mouth.

Remember, a very ill person needs medical help even if there are only a few spots, a rash or no rash at all.

What are meningitis and septicaemia?

Meningitis is inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord – the meninges. Septicaemia is blood poisoning caused by the same germs and is the more life threatening form of the disease.

Vaccine reminder

In the UK, a vaccine against meningococcal C meningitis and septicaemia (MenC), introduced in 1999 has dramatically reduced cases. From 2013 secondary school students are being offered a MenC booster in year 9 or 10. 

Students entering university from 2014 will also be offered a MenC booster. It is vital that first year student get vaccinated because people staying in halls of residents and having close contact with other new students during fresher’s week are considered to be at increased risk of encountering the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. The cut off date for getting the freshers vaccine was originally 31 October, but following 2 cases of MenC (one resulting in death) at Liverpool Hope University, the programme has been extended across England and Northern Ireland until March 2015. In Wales students can be vaccinated at any time during their first year at university. In Scotland there has been no increase in cases so there has been no need to extend the vaccination programme.

More about the MenC vaccine

Remember - meningococcal B meningitis and septicaemia (MenB) and other, rarer types of the disease are not vaccinated against, so even if they have been vaccinated against MenC, students and young people mustn’t assume they are protected: you need to learn the symptoms so that you can act fast if you fear an illness is meningitis or septicaemia.

Free information

We send thousands of free posters and symptoms cards to universities, colleges and sixth forms across the UK and Ireland every year. You can also download copies here or telephone our helpline for supplies: 080 8800 3344 (UK), 1800 41 33 44 (Ireland).

Student posters


Download your copy of our posters for students and young adults or order copies online
Sam Clarke
Meningococcal disease
Meningococcal disease at 4

Not a day passes when we don’t think of Sam

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Related current research projects

  • We currently fund 13 research projects throughout the world
  • Since we were founded in 1989, we have awarded 140 research grants, leading to many advances in the prevention, detection and treatment of meningitis and septicaemia.
  • The total value of our investment in vital scientific research is over £17 million (€19 million) ($26.6 million).