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Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The inflammation can lead to several symptoms and risk factors. As part of our How to Spot Series, we’ll be discussing everything you need to know to be able to not only spot meningitis but also understand the causes as well as when to see a doctor.
What causes meningitis in a child?
Meningitis can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection that attacks the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF). Because the function of CSF is to protect and cushion the brain and spinal cord, the effects of some types of meningitis can be extremely dangerous.
While bacterial meningitis is usually rare, the impact on children and babies can lead to long-term complications or even death. Here are some of the bacteria that can cause meningitis:
- Group B streptococcus
- Haemophilus influenza type B
- Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria
- Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria which causes Lyme disease.
While viral meningitis is a lot more common, it is not as severe or as dangerous as bacterial meningitis. Here are the viruses that can lead to meningitis:
- Mumps virus (Paramyxovirus)
- Flu virus
- West Nile virus
Other forms of meningitis can be caused by fungus or parasites, but are quite rare. All these forms of meningitis usually start growing in a person’s respiratory tract before showing any signs or symptoms. While it could just lead to a cold, sinus infection, or ear infection, it can also find its way into a child’s bloodstream and reach the brain and spinal cord.
Symptoms of Meningitis in babies:
- Sleeping more than usual
- Poor feeding due to weak sucking
- A high-pitched cry
- Skin rash with purple or red spots
- Cold hands and feet
Symptoms of Meningitis in toddlers:
- Stiffness of body and neck
- Irritability and mood swings
- Refusing to eat
- Feeling confused
- Sensitivity to light
- Purple-red skin rash
When to see a doctor?
Especially with bacterial meningitis, it is crucial to get an early diagnosis to help treat meningitis as soon as possible. In order to figure out whether your child is suffering from meningitis or not, you can perform the glass test.
Glass test for Meningitis:
- Hold the glass firmly against your child’s rash
- If the rash changes color and fades, then it is not a sign of meningitis.
- However, if you can still see the spots clearly through the glass, seek medical attention immediately.
Prevention of Meningitis:
Most routine childhood vaccinations can help prevent meningitis. But in order to make sure your child is getting the right prevention, here are several types of vaccines that can be given to your child to prevent meningitis:
- H. influenza type B vaccine (Hib)
- Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7)
- Meningococcal vaccine
Other forms of prevention of meningitis in children include:
- Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke
- Regularly wash hands
- Avoid sharing drinking bottles or cutlery with other children
- Encourage children to cough or sneeze into their elbows
- Practice good hygiene