Pediatric Meningitis

December 24, 2020
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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One of the most concerning experiences a parent goes through is realizing that your child’s health may be compromised. Maybe your kids are crying more than usual, complaining about pain, or you can just tell something is amiss. And when it comes to something as serious as pediatric meningitis, it’s crucial to move fast. But, what exactly is the condition? What are the causes? What are the symptoms? And is there any way to prevent it?

What is pediatric meningitis?

Meningitis is inflammation of the membranes that line the brain and the spinal cord. It can be caused either by bacteria or a virus that then invades the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) — the liquid that surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord. The condition could occur at any age, although it could be especially severe in children.

There are two types of meningitis — viral and bacterial. They are each caused by different factors.

Viral Meningitis

This is the most common type of meningitis, and it’s the complication of an underlying virus, such as herpes simplex, shingles, enterovirus, and/or chickenpox. While the symptoms are uncomfortable and require medical attention, viral meningitis is rarely life-threatening.

Bacterial Meningitis

While bacterial meningitis is less common, it can still affect people of any age. It usually occurs along with sepsis as bacteria invades the blood — the most common one being meningococcal, pneumococcal, and Haemophilus influenza. The condition can be life-threatening.

Causes of Pediatric Meningitis

There are several things that could cause pediatric meningitis. The most common ones are viruses, bacteria, or a fungus that infects a body part and travels through their bloodstream until it reaches the brain.

If the meningitis is viral, there could be several root causes. If your child has recently had any of the following conditions, seek medical care immediately:

  • Influenza
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Polioviruses
  • Chickenpox
  • West Nile virus
  • Herpes simplex — usually obtained from the mother while in the womb or during birth

Viral meningitis is most severe in newborns and one-month olds. However, children five years of age or younger are also at a higher risk of developing meningitis if they’ve had one of the viruses listed above.

If the meningitis is bacterial, it could be caused by different types of bacteria. The most common include:

  • Haemophilus influenzae type b
  • H. influenza
  • Streptococcus pneumonia
  • Neisseria meningitides (meningococcal meningitis)
  • Tuberculosis
  • Syphilis

Symptoms of Pediatric Meningitis

If your child is a baby, it’s crucial to pay attention to signs of pediatric meningitis, since they can’t verbalize how they’re feeling. These include:

  • A sudden, high fever
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Pain in the back, muscles, or neck
  • Having less energy than usual
  • Irritability
  • Mental confusion
  • Bulging fontanelle
  • Fear of loud sounds
  • Refusing to eat
  • Difficult to wake up
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • Skin rash/blotchy rashes or red rashes
  • Seizures — which are caused by high fever; not meningitis itself

In addition to the symptoms above, the more serious bacterial meningitis also includes the following symptoms:

  • Cold hands and feet
  • Confusion
  • Pale skin
  • Pain of the arms and/or legs

Diagnosis and Treatment of Pediatric Meningitis

If a doctor suspects a child has meningitis, they will conduct a lumbar puncture. This procedure involves taking a sample of cerebrospinal fluid. The test will then identify a specific virus or bacteria present in the CSF. In some instances, the test will be inconclusive, so the pediatrician will want to check the levels of white cells, protein, and glucose in the cerebrospinal fluid. If the child has bacterial meningitis, their white cell count will be much higher than what is considered normal. Your child’s doctor may also run blood tests to look for signs of a virus or bacteria, or a CT scan to look for any pockets of infection.

Treatment will depend on the type of meningitis affecting the child. If the condition is bacterial, they will be prescribed antibiotics — often given through an IV. If the condition is viral, the child may be prescribed a medication called Aciclovir.

When viral meningitis is mild, it may be possible that your child won’t require treatment. However, if your child has bacterial meningitis, they will have to be hospitalized and may need treatment for several weeks.

Preventing Pediatric Meningitis

The best way to prevent meningitis is through vaccines. While none of them are 100% effective, they can significantly lower the risk of developing the underlying health conditions that can result in viral meningitis — such as measles, chickenpox, and flu vaccines.

Vaccines are also helpful in lowering the risk of bacterial meningitis. Specifically, the Haemophilus influenzae type b, pneumococcal (PCV13), and meningococcal vaccines.

It’s also crucial to get a meningitis vaccine if you live in an environment that’s densely populated — such as condominiums, apartment complexes, shared houses, and college dorm rooms. This is because the organisms that cause meningitis can be transmitted by touching infected shared surfaces, such as doorknobs, faucets, and light switches.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care in Florida

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering Pediatric Home Health Care Services in Florida, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.