Meningitis symptoms in teenagers and young adults

Teenagers and young adults are at higher risk of meningitis, so it is particularly important to protect them. Why? Because as well as being at increased risk of developing the disease, they are also the most likely to carry and spread the bacteria to others.

It is also easy to mistake meningitis and septicaemia for freshers flu, COVID or even a hangover, which is why it is so important for teenagers, young adults, their friends and parents to also be aware of the meningitis symptoms to watch out for.

Meningitis and septicaemia: the symptoms to watch out for in teenagers and young adults 

Ticks in a circle show symptoms more specific to meningitis and septicaemia and less common in milder illnesses.
Meningitis symptoms - Fever and/or Vomiting
Fever and / or vomiting
Meningitis symptoms - Severe headache
Severe headache
Meningitis symptoms - Limb / joint / muscle pain (sometimes with stomach pain/diarrhoea)
Limb / joint / muscle pain
Meningitis symptoms - Cold hand and feet / shivering
Cold hands and feet / shivering
Meningitis symptoms - Pale
Meningitis symptoms - Breathing fast / breathless
Breathing fast / breathless
Meningitis symptoms - Rash
Meningitis symptoms - Stiff neck
Stiff neck
Meningitis symptoms - Dislike of bright lights
Dislike of bright lights
Meningitis symptoms - Very sleepy / vacant / difficult to wake
Very sleepy / difficult to wake / vacant
Meningitis symptoms - Confused / delirious
Confused / delirious
Meningitis symptoms - Seizures (fits)
Seizures (fits)

What you can do to protect yourself, the teenagers and young adults in your life and your friends from meningitis and septicaemia

1. Check with your doctor if you, your teenager or young adult has had their MenACWY vaccine 

Since 2015, the MenACWY vaccine has been routinely offered to teenagers aged 13 to 15 in the UK. It protects against one of the two most common causes of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia in the UK and Ireland: meningococcal C (MenC).  

If you are in the UK and over 14 and under 25, you can make sure you have had your free MenACWY vaccine by checking with your doctor or in your health record (often called the red book in the UK). Those who missed the vaccine at school can get it before their 25th birthday by asking their doctor.  

Outside the UK or Ireland and not sure what the routine vaccination schedule is for you? Check online with your healthcare provider or speak to your doctor or healthcare professional. 

2. If you’re a teenager or young adult, ask your friends have they had their MenACWY vaccine

A simple question can make someone take action and could save their life. Ask them did they have their MenACWY vaccine and, if they’re not sure, encourage them to check by speaking to their parent(s), carer(s) or doctor’s practice. Protect those you care about by having a conversation or messaging them. It’s a quick and easy action that could save their life. 

3. Understand that the MenACWY vaccine does not protect against all strains of meningitis

There are two most common causes of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia in the UK and Ireland: meningococcal C (MenC) and meningococcal B (MenB). While the MenACWY vaccine protects against MenC, it does not protect against MenB.  

In the UK, since September 2015, babies born on or after 1 July 2015 have been offered the MenB vaccine as part of their routine immunisation schedule.  

In Ireland, since December 2016, babies born on or after 1st October 2016 have been offered the MenB vaccine as part of the Primary Childhood Immunisation Schedule. The MenB vaccine is also available free of charge to people in the UK and Ireland with medical conditions that increase their risk of the disease. 

Outside the UK and Ireland, you can check online with your healthcare provider, or speak to your doctor or healthcare professional. 

For those born before these dates, MenB vaccines can be paid for privately in the UK and Ireland. For some though this will not be an option, or even something they have thought about, so it is vital to still be aware of the meningitis symptoms on this page. 

4. Know the meningitis signs and symptoms and do not brush them off as COVID, flu or a hangover

There have been reported cases of MenB cases rising amongst teenagers and young adults in the UK, so, it is vital to recognise the meningitis symptoms on this page and act fast.  

Meningitis can, and does, have devastating consequences, including life changing disabilities or, in the very worst cases, death within 24 hours.  

Very importantly, not everyone gets all these symptoms and they can appear in any order.  

If you think a friend or housemate is ill, check up on them regularly (even through the night), trust your instincts and get medical help immediately if you are worried. Your action can save their life. 

5. Share this page and talk about it with your friends, your family and the people who matter to you.

We want to defeat meningitis wherever it exists. Making people take action is a fundamental part of that. So, we’re asking you to share this information with the people you know on social media, via email or in whatever way works for you.

And then talk about it with them.  

Ask them did they read it.  

Ask them did they check if they were up-to-date with their vaccines.  

Ask them did they know a stiff neck or a dislike of bright lights can be a sign of meningitis.  

Your action may save someone’s life. Do it now.  

More support

Have more questions on meningitis and septicaemia or need to talk to someone? We’re here to support you on the phone (in the UK on 080 8800 3344 and in Ireland on 1800 41 33 44), via email or by live chat.  

Further resources

Meningitis symptomsDownload our meningitis and septicaemia symptoms for teenagers and young adults infographic: A4 version | A5 version

Download our meningitis symptoms for social media: Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter

Read what vaccines are available to prevent meningitis

Meningitis and septicaemia symptoms checker Including what to if your child is unwell and you suspect meningitis or septicaemia (our safety-netting resources).

Meningitis symptoms in babies

Meningitis symptoms in toddlers

Alert students to the importance of meningitis vaccines

Alert students to the importance of meningitis vaccines

Just £10/€12/$13.30 per month alerts 6,000 students to the importance of meningitis vaccines
Membership and support

The MRF Membership and Support team are here for you for any questions you might have about meningitis and septicaemia and their effects on you, or your family and friends.

Tel: Helpline UK 080 8800 3344 Ireland 1800 41 33 44