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Bacterial Meningitis in Children
is inflammation of the lining that surrounds and protects your child's brain and spinal cord. The inflammation is caused by a bacterial infection and can be life-threatening. The bacteria are found in the mouth, throat, or nose. They are spread from an infected person to another by coughing, kissing, or sharing food or drinks. It can also spread from an ear, nose, throat, sinus, or brain infection. A head injury or head surgery may also spread the infection.
Common signs and symptoms:
Any of the following may develop within hours or days:
- A severe headache, stiff neck, and a fever
- Neck pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Red or purple rash
- Eye pain when your child looks into bright lights
- Sleepiness or confusion
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:
- Your child is hard to wake.
- Your child has a seizure.
Seek care immediately if:
- Your child has a headache, fever, and stiff neck.
- Your child is confused.
- Your child says he or she has trouble seeing or hearing.
- Your child has a red or purple skin rash.
Call your child's doctor if:
- Your child has a fever.
- Your child is more fussy or sleepy than usual.
- You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.
may include any of the following:
- Antibiotics help treat a bacterial infection.
- Steroids decrease redness, pain, and swelling.
- Seizure medicine helps prevent or control seizures.
- Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines your child uses to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your child's doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
- NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him or her. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.
- Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.
Help manage your child's symptoms:
- Help your child rest as much as possible. A dark, quiet room may help if he or she has headaches. Talk to your child's healthcare provider about when your child can return to school or daycare.
- Give your child liquids as directed. Your child may need extra liquids to help prevent dehydration. Ask how much liquid to give your child each day and which liquids are best for him or her.
Help prevent the spread of bacterial meningitis:
- Wash your and your child's hands often. Use soap and water every time. Teach your child how to wash his or her hands. Rub your soapy hands together, lacing your fingers. Wash the front and back of your hands, and in between your fingers. Use the fingers of one hand to scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel. Use hand sanitizer that contains alcohol if soap and water are not available. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands first.
- Do not let your child share items. Examples include toys, food, and drinks.
- Ask about vaccines your child may need. Vaccines help protect your child and others around him or her from diseases caused by infection. Your child should get the meningitis vaccine at scheduled ages. He or she should also get a yearly flu vaccine as soon as recommended, usually starting in September or October. Your child's healthcare provider can tell you other vaccines your child should get and when to get them.
Follow up with your child's doctor as directed:
Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
Learn more about Bacterial Meningitis in Children (Ambulatory Care)
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