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What is meningitis?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord.

What causes meningitis?

Meningitis is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection that invades the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF). Cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) is the fluid within the open spaces of the brain that protect and cushion the brain and spinal cord. A fungus or parasite may also cause meningitis. The severity of a child's symptoms and prognosis depend on the specific organism that is causing the meningitis. Meningitis can occur in infants, children, and adults. Some bacteria and viruses are more common in certain age groups than others, including the following:

Bacteria that can cause meningitis (bacterial meningitis):
In newborns and young babies, possible bacteria include the following:

In older babies and children, possible bacteria include the following:

Other bacteria that may cause meningitis include the following:

Viruses that can cause meningitis (viral meningitis):

Other microorganisms that can cause meningitis:

Meningitis caused by a virus is more common and usually less severe. Bacterial meningitis is usually more severe and may produce long-term complications or death.

How is a meningitis infection transmitted?

The organisms that cause meningitis usually colonize in a person's respiratory tract and may be transmitted by close contact with persons who may be carrying the infection, or by touching infected objects such as doorknobs, hard surfaces, or toys and then touching the nose, mouth, or eyes. The organisms may also be transmitted through respiratory secretions from a sneeze, close conversation, or by touching infected matter. The infection usually starts in the respiratory tract and then travels into the bloodstream where it can reach the brain and spinal cord. The organism may cause a cold, sinus infection, or ear infection (more common in children), and then travel through the sinuses into the brain and CSF, although this method of transmission is less common. A child may have no symptoms at all, but may carry the organism in his/her nose and throat.

What are the symptoms of meningitis?

The symptoms of meningitis vary depending on the organism that is causing the infection. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of meningitis may surface several days after your child has had a cold and runny nose, or diarrhea and vomiting. The symptoms of meningitis may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is meningitis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for meningitis may include:

Treatment for meningitis:

Specific treatment for meningitis will be determined by your child's physician based on:

Treatment may include:

What is supportive therapy for meningitis?

While your child is recovering from meningitis, other therapies may be initiated to improve healing and comfort, and provide relief from symptoms. These may include the following:

Prevention of meningitis:

Several vaccines are currently available to prevent some of the bacterial organisms that can cause meningitis, including the following:

If you have questions regarding prevention, please consult your child's physician.

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