Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can be caused by viral or bacterial infections and can range from mild to severe. Children are at higher risk of meningitis because their immune systems are still developing and they are more likely to be in close contact with others, increasing the risk of infection. Meningitis can be serious and can lead to complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss, and death. In this article, we will provide an overview of meningitis in children, including its symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention.
The symptoms of meningitis may vary, but the most common symptoms include:
- Fever: A high fever is often the first symptom of meningitis.
- Headache: Meningitis is often accompanied by a severe headache.
- Stiff neck: Children with meningitis may have a stiff neck, which can make it difficult to touch their chin to their chest.
- Rash: Some children with meningitis may develop a rash, which may be red or purple in color.
- Other symptoms: Other common symptoms of meningitis include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and altered mental status.
Meningitis can be caused by viral or bacterial infections. Viral meningitis is more common and is usually less severe than bacterial meningitis. Viral meningitis is often caused by viruses, such as enteroviruses, which are common in the summer and fall. Bacterial meningitis is more serious and is caused by bacteria, such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, or Neisseria meningitidis. Bacterial meningitis is most commonly found in children and can be spread through close contact with an infected person or through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Treatment for meningitis depends on the cause of the infection. Children with viral meningitis may only require supportive care, such as rest and pain relief, as the virus must run its course. Children with bacterial meningitis will require antibiotics to treat the infection. Children with severe meningitis may require hospitalization for treatment and may need supportive care, such as oxygen and intravenous fluids.
The best way to prevent meningitis is through vaccination. The Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine is highly effective at preventing Hib meningitis and is recommended for all children. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) is also recommended for children and can help prevent pneumococcal meningitis. The meningococcal vaccine is also recommended for children to prevent meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis.
In addition to vaccination, other measures that can help prevent the spread of meningitis include:
- Good hygiene: Children should be taught to cover their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing and to wash their hands frequently with soap and water.
- Avoid close contact with infected people: Children who are not sick should avoid close contact with people who are sick with meningitis or other respiratory illness.
- Stay home when sick: Children who are sick with meningitis should stay home from school or daycare until they are no longer contagious to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Meningitis. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/index.html
Mayo Clinic. (2021). Meningitis. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/meningitis/symptoms-causes/syc-2035050