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Meningitis in children

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  • The type of meningitis that focuses on cases of the disease within this particular age group is called neonatal meningitis
  • Symptoms of meningitis are different among newborns and older children
  • Older children acquire meningitis in the same way that adults do — via close contact
 

Meningitis in Infants and Children

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Unfortunately, meningitis could affect almost anyone — infants and children included. The type of meningitis that focuses on cases of the disease within this particular age group is called neonatal meningitis.1

Records show that there are already 300 to 400 neonatal meningitis cases for every 100,000 live births.2 The highest incidence of meningitis is said to fall right between birth and 2 years of age, with the greatest risk coming right after birth and at 3 to 8 months.3

Cases of meningitis in newborns and infants are mainly caused by bacteria, the most common group B streptococcus bacteria. However, E.coli and listeria (in rare cases) may trigger this disease as well.4

A viral infection may also initiate meningitis in newborns and children, but it is less severe and almost never lethal, unless it’s a rabies infection.5

How Your Newborn or Child Might Be Affected With This Disease

Newborn babies acquire the strep B bacterial infection from their mother’s genital or gastrointestinal tract during birth. However, should the mother become infected with listeria, the baby might already be infected with the bacteria even before birth. As Paedriatic Infectious Diseases professor Paul Heath points out:6

“Mothers with listeria infection generally have a flu-like illness in the week or so before the baby is delivered, although this is often not distinctive enough to [recognize] it as a listeria infection.

It is during this time that the bacteria cross the placenta (which connects the mother's and baby’s bloodstreams) and infects the baby.”

Underlying problems to the infant’s immune system that are present at birth and increased exposure to infections could also play a role in increasing a child’s risk for meningitis.7

On the other hand, older children acquire meningitis in the same way that adults do — via close contact. This type of meningitis can be spread from one person to another by coughing, sneezing, kissing or sharing eating or drinking utensils.

Children can also get the bacteria when they’re in overcrowded places or in smoke-filled environments.8

Warning Signs of Meningitis in Your Newborn or Child

Symptoms of meningitis are different among newborns and older children. If you are taking care of an infant, these are hallmark signs of meningitis that you should watch out for:9

A high-pitched, moaning cry

A bulging fontanelle (the soft spot on the top of a baby’s head10)

Difficulty in waking up

Unusual behavior — either floppy and listless or stiff with jerky movements

Refusal to feed

Breathing that is rapid, unusual and difficult

Pale or blotchy skin

Red or purple rashes that do not fade under pressure

Meanwhile, older children typically show these symptoms if they already have meningitis:11

Stiff neck

Severe pains and aches on the back and joints

Sleepiness and confusion

Very bad headache

Very colds hands and feet

Shivering

Rapid breathing

Red or purple spots or rashes that do not fade under pressure

Should you notice any or most of these meningitis symptoms on an infant or child that you know, please make sure he or she is treated immediately. This will help determine the cause of the disease and the ideal course of treatment, as well as prevent further complications from arising.

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