Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and the spinal cord. It is caused by an infection, which can be bacterial, viral or fungal. Bacterial meningitis is the most serious type. If not treated promptly, it can cause permanent brain damage, neurologic problems and even death. This type of meningitis develops in hours.
The highest incidences of meningitis are often reported between birth and two years, with the greatest risk said to be immediately after birth up to eight months of age. It is also worth noting that increased exposure to infections and underlying immune system problems present at birth increase an infant’s risk of meningitis.
Causes of meningitis
Bacteria and viruses cause the great majority of meningitis disease in infants and children. The disease normally occurs as a complication from an infection in the bloodstream. A blood brain barrier normally protects the brain from contamination by the blood. Sometimes infections directly decrease the protective ability of the blood-brain barrier while at other times infections release substances that decrease this protective ability.
The body tries to fight the infection by increasing the number of white blood cells but this can lead to increased inflammation. As the inflammation increases, brain tissue can start swelling and blood flow to vital areas of the brain decreases.
Meningitis can also be caused by the direct spread of a nearby severe infection such as an ear or a nasal infection. An infection can also occur following a direct trauma to the head or after any type of head surgery.
Signs and symptoms to look out for
Meningitis can be deadly hence the need to learn the symptoms in order to curb it early as treatment is essential. Seek medical attention immediately if your child has the following symptoms.
– Increased irritability and exhaustion
– Skin rash
– Vomiting and lack of appetite
– Jaundice (a yellowish tint to the skin)
– Stiff neck
– A persistent cry
If diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics for him as well as for anyone else who has been in close contact with the child. Viral meningitis cannot be treated with antibiotics, but it usually clears up after a week or two and is far less dangerous.
Can meningitis be prevented?
The best way to protect your child from meningitis is to make sure they get all the standard immunisations for children. These include shots for measles, chicken pox, haemophilus influenza type disease and pneumococcal infection. Talk to your paediatrician so that you do not miss the scheduled government immunisation calendar for disease protection.
Published April 2017