Flu or Meningitis? Recognizing the differences can make all the difference

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It’s back – yes, unfortunately, cold and flu season is upon us.

Most parents would probably like to skip over cold and flu season entirely, but unfortunately that isn’t possible. However, becoming familiar with symptoms and being better prepared for the season is possible, which is important, since the early symptoms of Meningitis are similar to those of the flu. Given that infants are at an increased risk of infection with Meningitis, we have decided to provide this helpful resource guide with a breakdown of the symptoms of both the flu and Meningitis.


Meningitis Facts  Flu Facts
Meningitis is caused by an infection of the membrane around the brain and spine. Influenza, or the flu, is a respiratory disease.
Early symptoms for those over two years old include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • vomiting
  • stiff neck

Other symptoms can include:

  • light sensitivity
  • confusion
  • no interest in eating or drinking
Symptoms of the flu include:

  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • very high fever (103 – 105 °F)
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • weakness
  • dry cough
  • chills
  • nausea
  • pain in the eyes


The best way to check your baby’s temperature is to use a digital ear thermometer.

A temperature that is higher than 37.8 °C (100  °F) indicates a fever.

Symptoms for newborns include:

  • high fever
  • poor eating
  • constant crying
  • excessive sleepiness and irritability
  • stiffness in baby’s body and neck
  • a bulge in the soft spot of the head
Bacterial meningitis can be spread through contact like sharing toys or drinks, as easily as a cold or flu.
Meningococcal disease is an aggressive illness that can lead to death within 24-48 hours of the first symptom. About 1 in 10 of those with the disease will die despite treatment. Symptoms will start to subside and your infant will start to feel better after three to five days.
Vaccines available for all common strains. Vaccines available annually for most common strains.


Please note that the symptoms that are similar between Meningitis and the flu are bolded in the chart above. In general, the symptoms of Meningitis do not include a runny nose or a cough, but do include having a stiff neck.

We hope this has helped you learn some ways to distinguish Flu from Meningitis. If you or your child has any symptoms of Meningitis, please follow up immediately with your doctor – because time really is of the essence with this infection.

For more information on Flu and Meningitis, in a helpful infographic format, please visit this link.

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