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Meningitis, Bacterial

What is bacterial meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection of the tissues and fluid that surround the brain and spinal cord. When bacteria cause the infection, it is called bacterial meningitis.

Bacterial meningitis is a serious, life-threatening illness. Even with treatment, some types of meningitis can cause brain damage, resulting in problems ranging from deafness to paralysis. Your child may recover without any problems if the infection is found and treated early.

Another name for this infection is spinal meningitis.

What is the cause?

Bacteria can spread to the brain and spinal cord:

  • From a nearby infection, such as a bad sinus infection
  • Through the bloodstream from another part of the body
  • In rare cases, from someone who has a bacterial infection

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of meningitis can come on very fast (over a few hours) or more slowly (over a few days). The symptoms may include:

  • High fever and chills
  • Headache (often made worse by light)
  • Back and neck pain or stiffness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Body aches
  • Fussiness
  • Constant crying, sometimes high pitched cry
  • Confusion
  • Rash
  • Seizures

How is it diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. Your provider will examine your child.

Tests may include:

  • Test of fluid drawn from the spine with a needle (called a spinal tap or lumbar puncture)
  • Blood tests
  • CT or MRI scan of the brain

How is it treated?

Your child will stay in the hospital for treatment. Treatment must begin right away. Your child will be given antibiotics for 1 to 3 weeks. Your child may need to keep taking antibiotics after going home from the hospital.

How can I help take care of my child?

When your child comes home, follow the treatment plan prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider. Be sure your child finishes all medicines exactly as prescribed. Keep all follow-up appointments.

The bacteria causing the meningitis can be passed from person to person. A child can be contagious for 2 days to 2 weeks, depending on the type of bacteria causing the infection. Some things you can do to help prevent spread of the infection include:

  • Wash your child's hands often.
  • Make sure anyone who has contact with your child washes their hands often.
  • Don’t share cups or eating utensils.
  • Avoid contact with saliva, such as by kissing your child.
  • Make sure your child covers his mouth when he coughs.
  • Ask your child’s provider if other family members should take medicine or get shots to help keep the disease from spreading.

Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will hear your child’s test results
  • How long it will take for your child to recover
  • What activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent bacterial meningitis?

Three childhood immunizations help prevent meningitis. These shots are:

  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine
  • Pneumococcal (PCV13) vaccine
  • Meningococcal vaccine (MCV)

Check with your healthcare provider to see if your child or others in your family are up to date with their shots or if they need more shots.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-06-29
Last reviewed: 2012-06-11
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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