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Meningitis in Children - Introduction

Meningitis represents an inflammation of brain's membranes called the meninges. The infection can be caused by viruses or bacteria and these infective agents enter the body through nasal cavity and may reach meninges directly or are transferred via bloodstream. The disease is very serious particularly in children and if not treated properly and timely it may lead to serious complications and in some cases death. In children the highest incidence of this infective disease is between the birth and 2 years. The highest risk is among children who are up to 3 or 8 months old.

The infective agents directly cause inflammation of the meninges and irritation of the meninges features in specific symptoms and signs such as headache and neck stiffness.

Causes of Meningitis in Children

As it has already been mentioned that meningitis may be caused by bacteria or viruses. These infective agents enter the blood and may eventually pass through the blood-brain barrier. Once the infective agents have reached the menignes the body produces increased number of white blood cells which are responsible for inflammation and protection against infective agents. Even direct spread of the infection from ear infection or sinusitis may be a cause of meningitis. And finally, meningitis may result as a consequence of direct trauma to the head which is accompanied by fracture of the head.

Right after the birth the children most commonly develop meningitis caused by group B Streptococcus, Escherichia coli and Listeria species. The most common culprits of meningitis in children older than one month are Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae type B and Neisseria meningitidis. Thanks to proper vaccination the incidence of meningitis caused by Haemophilus influenzae has significantly decreased. Viral meningitis in children is not so serious and it predominantly affects children in the summer months since when the exposure to enteroviruses is the greatest.

Symptoms of Meningitis in Children

Symptoms of meningitis in children develop within 1 to 4 days. In severe cases they fully develop in a day. The symptoms and signs are not obvious in most cases since babies and small children cannot explain what bothers them. However, well- experienced pediatrician will perform physical examination and definitely confirm or rule out the presence of meningitis.

In children who are less than three month the old most common symptoms of meningitis are increased irritability and lethargy, fever, decreased fluid intake and vomiting. Their fontanel is bulging and they may eventually develop seizures.

In children older than 1 year the symptoms of meningitis include headache, nausea and vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, fever, changes in mental status such as confusion, lethargy etc. There is also chance of seizures and their neck is stiff.

Once the definitive diagnosis is confirmed children are hospitalized and treated as soon as possible.

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