All about meningitis

There are two types of meningitis: Viral and bacterial meningitis. It is a very serious illness in which the membranes and fluid that surround the brain and the spinal cord become infected.

What causes meningitis?

It’s important to establish what caused the illness – whether it was bacteria, virus or fungus – so that it can be treated properly. Meningitis is spread when someone with the illness coughs or sneezes.

Is meningitis serious?

Bacterial meningitis is generally more serious than viral meningitis, which is often caused by another illness such as enteroviruses, coxsackieviruses , mumps viruses or adenoviruses . Bacterial meningitis can cause permanent disabilities in up to 20% of children who get it, and can also cause death.

Can I prevent meningitis?

There are vaccines that can help prevent several types of meningitis, including vaccines for haemophilus (Hib) meningitis, meningococcal meningitis, and pneumococcal meningitis. Viral meningitis is best prevented by washing hands thoroughly and often.

How do I know if my child has meningitis?

Babies with meningitis may have the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Refusing to eat
  • Fretfulness
  • Being difficult to wake
  • Skin rash or bruising
  • High moaning cry
  • Pale or blotchy skin
  • Neck retraction with arching of back

Older children may experience:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Neck stiffness and joint pains
  • Drowsiness and confusion
  • Skin rash or bruising
  • Discomfort looking at bright lights (photophobia)

How do I treat meningitis?

Treatment for bacterial meningitis may involve hospitalisation, antibiotics, and other medications such as anticonvulsants, cortisone, and sedatives which may be used to treat complications.

Treatment for viral meningitis is similar to the treatment for any viral illness, therefore cannot be treated with antibiotics. Make sure that your child gets lots of rest and fluids. Keep her warm and use paracetamol for discomfort and fever.

Should I call the doctor?

Always call the doctor if you suspect that your child has meningitis. The earlier your child receives treatment for bacterial meningitis, the better the outcome.

What you need to know about meningitis

  • Meningitis is a serious illness that can cause serious complications and even death.
  • Bacterial meningitis is more serious than viral meningitis
  • Bacterial meningitis is treated with antibioditics
  • Viral meningitis is treated the same way you treat any virus
  • There are vaccinations available for some forms of meningitis.

Written by Rebecca Stigall for Kidspot, New Zealand’s parenting resource for family health. Sources include The Meningitis Foundation NZ, Better Health Channel, NSW Health and Health Insite.

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