Meningitis is an infection of the layers of tissue (called meninges) that cover the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is often caused by a virus, but the most serious type of meningitis is caused by bacteria. Both viral and bacterial meningitis can cause brain problems.
Older children with meningitis usually have a stiff neck, fever, and headache
Babies with meningitis are usually cranky (even when being held), eat poorly, or throw up
Doctors can tell that your child has meningitis using a spinal tap and blood tests
Vaccines (shots that healthy children need to help protect them from certain infections) can help prevent some types of bacterial infections that cause meningitis
Doctors treat bacterial meningitis with antibiotics
Some children die of meningitis even with treatment
Meningitis is caused by a bacterial or viral infection.
Meningitis in newborn babies usually comes from a bacterial infection of the blood. This infection is caused by bacteria in the mother's birth canal.
Older infants and children usually get meningitis from contact with others who are sick. Vaccines have made some causes of bacterial meningitis very rare.
All infants and children can get meningitis, but certain babies and children are at higher risk. Risk factors include:
Symptoms of meningitis vary by age. In all ages, symptoms of bacterial meningitis can get worse very quickly. A "warning sign" is a sick child who becomes unusually sleepy or who begins acting confused. A sick child who isn't fully alert or who isn't behaving normally needs to be taken to the hospital right away.
In babies younger than 12 months, early symptoms include:
In older children and teens, meningitis often starts with a cold. Then, they get symptoms such as:
Watch children with these symptoms closely because they may quickly become sleepy or confused and will need emergency care.
Doctors will suspect meningitis from your child's symptoms. To know for sure, doctors may do:
A spinal tap (lumbar puncture) where a doctor uses a needle to get a sample of spinal fluid from around the spinal cord
If your child has bacterial meningitis, doctors will give:
If your child has certain kinds of viral meningitis, doctors may give anti-viral drugs. Usually, your child will just be given medicine for pain and fever, such as ibuprofen.
Even with treatment, some babies and children die or have long-term problems from bacterial meningitis.
Vaccines may prevent many cases of bacterial meningitis.
Children who have been in contact with someone who has bacterial meningitis are often given antibiotics to help prevent infection.