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Meningitis is a serious condition which occurs when the meninges (linings around the brain and spinal cord) become inflamed. It can be caused by different organisms, including bacteria and viruses. In some cases it can be life-threatening, so it is important that you are aware of the signs and symptoms.

What about a Rash?

Some bacteria that cause meningitis can also cause septicaemia (blood poisoning), where bacteria enter the bloodstream and multiply very quickly. With septicaemia, both adults and children can develop a rash. It is caused by blood leaking under the skin.

It often starts as tiny pinpricks which can occur anywhere on the body, and these can spread quickly to resemble bruises.

It is more difficult to see on darker skin, but may be more visible on paler areas of the skin (e.g. the mouth, palms, soles of feet and abdomen and under the eyelids).


Press an empty glass against the skin where there are pinpricks. If the rash doesn’t fade under pressure and you can see the pinpricks through the glass, ring 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Common signs and symptoms of meningitis together with action to take are listed in the table below:

SCAS Meningitis (2)Source: Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, Gloucester.

Many students are requested to be up-to-date on their British vaccination schedule before starting university. For details, go to