Meningitis is an infection or swelling of the lining that covers the brain and spinal cord. This can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or irritation from a tumor or chemicals. If it is caused by an infection, the organism usually enters the body through the upper respiratory tract, into the blood stream, and then into the blood that supplies the brain and spinal cord. Infections of the inner ear can also lead to meningitis.

What Are The Signs Of Meningitis?
The signs of meningitis depend on the age of the child. It is more difficult to identify symptoms in an infant under one year.

In An Infant The Signs May Include:
  • Poor feeding
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Shrill or weak cry
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Apnea (not breathing)

In An Older Child The Signs May Include The Following:
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Seizures

How Is Meningitis Diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects that your child has meningitis, several blood tests will be ordered and the physician will need to do a spinal tap on your child. This is a test that is necessary to allow spinal fluid to be sent to the laboratory to check for signs of meningitis. The final results of the spinal tap will take approximately 3 days. Your doctor will explain more about the spinal tap before it needs to be done.

How Is Meningitis Treated?
Meningitis can have very serious consequences and is therefore treated very aggressively. Antibiotics will be started and given through an IV (intravenous line).

Your child will be monitored for fever, signs of seizures, and response to the medications.

Can Meningitis Be Prevented?
One of the most common types of meningitis that affects children is caused by Hemophilus influenzae. The HIB vaccine is available to immunize children against this bacteria, and should be given with a child's routine set of vaccinations. There are also vaccines available to immunize children against the Meningococcal bacteria. This vaccine is not routinely given to children, but may be administered in certain circumstances.

Family members and persons who have been in close contact with the infectious child may be prescribed antibiotics to guard against developing the disease. Speak with your doctor to determine if this is necessary for your family.