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.


  1. kymmage 01/09/2019 at 11:23 pm

    One of my children is vaccinated against it. My other isn’t, as it was no longer free at that time. It’s a very scary thing that is for sure. When I was at university a girl had a suspected case. She was on my floor, across the hall at the halls of residence and we all went into lock down. It was a nervous wait for her blood test results. Thankfully it wasn’t!

  2. Alezandra 31/08/2019 at 10:13 pm

    Reading this article makes me realise that meningitis can easily be missed. What’s scarier is that it can become so serious that can cause death, I didn’t know that. Thanks for this article.

  3. Micht 31/08/2019 at 12:40 am

    Meningitis is something that scares me in that it presents itself as a normal flu or cold and besides a few other symptoms that can so easily be overlooked or missed it can lead serious and fatal consequences… i think articles like these are necessary to bring attention to it and more information gathered to keep families safe.

  4. Bevik1971 30/08/2019 at 3:59 pm

    Quite scary seeing on the news about the meningitis in the North Island more specifically Auckland. Oh makes me so sad reading some of the other ladies stories above 🙁 I am very sorry for those families and pray that the terrible disease somehow just dies out miraculously.

  5. Shorrty4life1 28/08/2019 at 9:02 pm

    Very interesting read. Its always good to know signs and symptoms etc as it can hit anyone young or old. My friends mum was a healthy lady then she died in her early 40s from meningitis. The kids were so young and have struggled ever since. Always heard more about it in children though. Used to always see the poster around school don’t share drink bottles as you’re sharing spit and that can lead to meningitis. Never see them around now day’s but they definitely should be.

  6. MuddledUpMolly 27/08/2019 at 1:32 pm

    A friend of mine lost her niece a year ago due to Meningitis 🙁 She was not part of the statistical norm for contracting the disease so it pats for everyone to be aware of the signs and symptoms to hopefully prevent more needless deaths and sickness 🙁

  7. Mands1980 27/08/2019 at 11:32 am

    Meningitis is one of those scary illnesses we read about often and it scares me how many times it is not diagnosed properly or fast. Lives can be saved by knowing the symptoms and acting fast I have thought about getting all our kids vaccinated and probably will do despite the cost.

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