Meningitis is a diseased condition characterized by inflammation in the meninges, which are the outer covering membranes of the brain and the spinal cord. This disease is also referred to as spinal meningitis. It can occur in children and also in adults. Children below two years, especially newborns, and 8 months old babies are at higher risk. It is because of the fact that the immune system of the children in this age group is not completely developed. In majority of cases, inflammation is caused due to infection by bacteria, viruses, and other disease causing microorganisms. Very rarely, meningitis is caused as a side effect of medications; and due to other medical complications like ear infection and head injury. Hence, those children who are frequently exposed to infections and those with a weakened immune system are more prone to developing this disease.
It is usually life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Early signs depend on the age of the child and the cause; usually, symptoms become obvious 2-4 days post infection. Treatment is essential, as untreated meningitis may lead to certain long-term health hazards and even death.
Newborns and infants with its infection often show restlessness, irritability, and lethargy. Other symptoms are neck stiffness, mild fever, loss of appetite, jaundice, spasm, and bulging of fontanelle (soft spot on the top portion of the skull). Early symptoms of meningitis in children (above one year) are more or less similar to those of infected newborns and infants. They include nasal congestion, common cold, nausea, fever, confusion, painful neck, skin rash, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Very often, the symptoms are confused with other medical problems. Viral meningitis, though more common than the bacterial type), causes mild symptoms and can be treated easily. On the other hand, bacterial meningitis is more fatal and difficult to treat. Following are the complications seen in bacterial meningitis:
- Learning disability
- Loss of hearing (deafness)
- Eye diseases
- Brain damage
- Meningococcemia (infection in bloodstream, causing blue spots on skin)
- Kidney failure
- Nervous system disorders
Correct diagnosis is very essential, as treatment differs according to the cause of the disease. Close supervision is always advisable, as the child may not be able to communicate properly. It is to be noted that the infections are contagious, and can spread either through direct contact, or respiratory secretions; especially, if caused by certain organisms like Meningococcus and Haemophilus influenza. Hence, proper care should be taken, so as to avoid exposure of the child to such infections.
The infected child should be given plenty of juices to drink. For prevention of bacterial meningitis, appropriate vaccination should be given by consulting a qualified physician. Preventive measures like oral antibiotics should also be taken by the family members, relatives, and caretakers.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.