Emergency advice


  1. Call 999.
  2. Treat the fever.
  3. Do the glass test.
  4. If spots don't fade, call 999 immediately.
  5. Reassure them and keep them cool.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection of the linings that surround the brain and the spinal cord. It’s caused by a bacteria or virus. Anyone of any age can get meningitis. It can be very serious. If you suspect someone has meningitis call 999 or 112 immediately, so they can get to a hospital as soon as possible for urgent treatment.

Signs and symptoms

Look for:

  • very unwell, with a flu-like illness and a high temperature
  • mottled or very pale skin
  • hands and feet may feel cold to touch
  • joint and limb pain
  • as the infection develops, severe headache
  • neck stiffness
  • vomiting
  • eyes may be sensitive to light
  • drowsiness
  • babies may have a high pitched, moaning or whimpering cry. They may be floppy and have a tense or bulging soft spot on the top of the skull known as the fontanelle.
  • later on, a distinctive rash of red or purple spots that do not fade when pressed.

What to do

  1. If someone is unwell and you think they have signs of meningitis, call 999 or 112 for emergency help straight away.

  2. While waiting for help to arrive, start to treat their fever.

  3. Check the casualty to see if they have a rash. If they do, you can do the glass test. Most rashes will fade if you press the spots with the side of a glass. If they do not fade, call 999 or 112 for emergency help at once.

  4. While you’re waiting for help to arrive, reassure them and keep them cool. Give them plenty of water to replace fluids lost through sweating. Monitor their level of response.

Related first aid advice

Who should I call?

At some point in their life, most people will witness or be involved in an accident or medical emergency. Knowing what to do and when you should call the emergency services can potentially save lives.


A fever is when a person has a persistent high temperature above 37°C (98.6°F). Find out what to look for and what to do.


Mumps is a contagious viral infection. It usually passes without causing serious damage to a person’s health. Find out what to look for and what to do.

St John Ambulance volunteers providing support