Meningitis in children - Early detection and vaccination can save lives!
Meningitis in children- Early detection and vaccination can save lives!
Meningitis is an infection of the membranes that cover the brain and the spinal cord. Easily transmissible, this disease can lead to long-term complications and even death in children if not detected and treated at an early stage. This disease can also be prevented with the help of vaccinations and thus it is of utmost importance for parents to be aware of this illness.
Causes and spread of meningitis in children
Various microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, or even parasites can be responsible for the development of meningitis in children. Many bacteria and viruses that cause meningitis also cause other illnesses and can be spread easily from person to person. The modes of transmission of infection in meningitis can be when an infected person coughs, sneezes, kisses, or touches a non-infected person.
Bacterial meningitis, though rare can lead to life-threatening infection if unidentified. Around 1 in 10 people who get bacterial meningitis do not survive. In some cases, bacterial infection can also spread from infected ear or sinuses to cause this. Many bacteria can be responsible for the development of this type of meningitis, including, some variants of Streptococci, Neisseria meningitidis, and Listeria monocytogenes.
Viral meningitis also called aseptic meningitis can be caused by multiple viruses including the ones causing cold or diarrhoea. This form of meningitis is usually less serious.
Some children in whom the immune system may be compromised can also get meningitis due to various fungi rarely. And, parasitic meningitis can result in children who are exposed to raw or undercooked food infected with parasites.
Tubercular meningitis caused by the bacteria that causes tuberculosis can also occur in children. Since tuberculosis is a common infection in India and can lead to a long-term illness and require over a year of treatment, this should be taken seriously.
Symptoms of Meningitis in children
Symptoms in meningitis can vary and depend on the age of the child and the type of infection. But common symptoms that may be seen include:
- Fever and malaise
- Sensitivity to light
- Stiffness of neck
- Skin rash
- Arching back
When babies get infected, they may be cranky and difficult to soothe, feed poorly, may sleep for long hours, and can be difficult to wake up. At times, they may also present with a bulge/soft spot, on the head.
Since meningitis may follow a respiratory infection in most cases, one may first notice a cold, sinus, ear infection or at times vomiting or diarrhoea several days before the frank meningitis symptoms.
Complications of meningitis
Meningitis can cause long-term complications and even death if undiagnosed at an early stage. Complications associated with this disease include
- Loss of hearing
- Impairment of vision
- Loss of coordination
- Memory, or learning problems
The heart, kidneys, and adrenal glands can also be affected. Children who receive early treatment can recover quickly and thus it is recommended to get your child checked at an early stage by a pediatrician in any case of suspicion.
When should you call the doctor?
A baby who has a fever is cranky or is not feeding should be immediately taken to a doctor for a check-up. It is recommended to consult in case of prolonged cold, ear infection, or stomach infection, or if one notices any symptoms which can point to meningitis. Symptoms such as confusion, neck stiffness, or headaches in children should be an indication to consult.
It is also recommended to consult if your child has been near someone who has been diagnosed with meningitis. In such cases, your pediatrician may prescribe preventive medicine to your child.
Can meningitis be prevented?
YES, this extremely serious illness can also be prevented. Since multiple microorganisms can be responsible for the development of meningitis routine vaccination of children go a long way in preventing this disease. The various immunizations that can protect your child include-
- H. influenza type B vaccine
- Pneumococcal vaccine
- Meningococcal vaccine
Also, vaccines against measles, mumps, chickenpox, and the BCG vaccine can provide protection against meningitis caused by various microorganisms. It is thus recommended that parents take note of the immunization schedule and assure to get their children vaccinated to prevent such infection.
Besides vaccination, other modes of prevention include following meticulous hand hygiene, covering mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing, eating healthy and properly cooked food, and discouraging sharing items like utensils and toothbrushes.
Diagnosis and treatment of meningitis
Your pediatrician may perform various diagnostic tests including blood tests, CT/MRI, or a lumbar puncture to test the fluids in the spinal cord area to confirm the diagnosis. The treatment will depend on the cause and symptoms of meningitis that the child has.
In any case, the first mode of prevention for any disease including meningitis is prevention by vaccination and caution. However, if your child shows symptoms that may point towards meningitis then we recommend you meeting your pediatrician for an early cure and for prevention of complications of this deadly disease.