Meningitis is an infection / inflammation of the meninges – the covering of brain and spinal cord. It is caused by bacteria and viruses commonly. Rarely fungi and non-infectious causes may also cause meningitis.
- Fever – is present in most cases of meningitis and in small babies and infants sometimes high grade fever maybe the only presenting complaint.
- Neck stiffness
- Irritability – specially in younger children
If your pediatrician suspects meningitis she may ask for a brain imaging – CT scan or MRI. But a lumbar puncture is the only way to confirm the diagnosis and also helps in deciding which medication is most likely to help.
Lumbar puncture is performed by inserting a very small needle through the child’s back in the space between 2 vertebrae to collect cerebrospinal fluid. It sounds very scary to most parents but it is a rather simple procedure. If a diagnosis of meningitis is missed it can have long term sequelae/ complications.
Mainstay of treatment is intravenous antibiotics for bacterial meningitis – duration of antibiotics is usually for 2-3 weeks. Oral antibiotics do not work in meningitis.
For viral meningitis treatment is mostly supportive but for some viruses antivirals drugs are effective.
If meningitis is not treated appropriately or timely it can lead to sequelae/complications.
- Cognitive impairment – impairment in intellectual functions and day to day activities
- Weakness of hands or legs
Meningitis can be caused by many bacteria or viruses. For the common organisms causing bacterial meningitis vaccination is available so be sure to vaccinate your child on time.