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Bacterial Meningitis In Children

What is bacterial meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis 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.

What causes bacterial meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis is caused by bacteria found in the mouth, throat, or nose. The bacteria 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.

What are the signs and symptoms of bacterial meningitis?

It may only take a few hours to a few days to have any of the following signs and symptoms:

  • High fever and chills
  • Stiff neck or neck pain
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Red or purple rash
  • Eye pain when your child looks into bright lights
  • Sleepiness or confusion

How is bacterial meningitis diagnosed?

  • Blood tests: Your child may need blood tests to give caregivers information about how his body is working. The blood may be taken from your child's arm, hand, finger, foot, heel, or IV.
  • A CT , or CAT scan, takes pictures of your child's body. Your child may be given contrast liquid before the scan. Tell a healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
  • Lumbar puncture: This procedure may also be called a spinal tap. A small needle is placed into your child's lower back. Fluid will be removed from around your child's spinal cord and sent to the lab for tests. The test is done to check for bleeding around your child's brain and spinal cord, and for infection. This procedure may also be done to take pressure off your child's brain and spinal cord, or to give medicine. Your child may need to be held in place so that he does not move during the procedure.

  • MRI: An MRI uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to take pictures of the inside of your child's body. Caregivers may use the MRI to look at your child's brain, muscles, joints, bones, or blood vessels. Your child will need to lie still during his test. Never enter the MRI room with any metal objects. This can cause serious injury.

How is bacterial meningitis treated?

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help prevent or treat an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Anticonvulsant medicine: Anticonvulsants are given to control your child's seizures.
  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: These medicines are given to decrease your child's pain and fever. They can be bought without a doctor's order. Ask how much medicine is safe to give your child, and how often to give it.
  • Steroids: Steroid medicine may be given to your child to decrease inflammation. This medicine can help your child feel better but may also have side effects. Be sure you understand why your child needs steroids.

What medical problems can bacterial meningitis cause?

  • Seizure
  • Hearing loss
  • Blindness
  • Heart, kidney, or adrenal gland diseases
  • Coma

How can bacterial meningitis be prevented?

  • Antibiotic medicines may be given if your child has been exposed to someone who has bacterial meningitis. Your child may also receive antibiotics if he has a weak immune system.
  • Make sure your child discards tissue after he wipes or blows his nose.
  • Have your child wash his hands often with soap and water.
  • Do not let your child share food or drinks.
  • Certain illnesses caused by bacteria can lead to bacterial meningitis. Ask your child's caregiver if your child needs any of the following vaccines against illnesses caused by bacteria:
    • Hib vaccine helps prevent infections caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). All infants and children aged 2 months through 4 years should get the Hib vaccine. A total of 3 to 4 doses are given. The first dose may be given as early as 6 weeks of age.
    • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV) helps prevent certain types of meningococcal disease. In adolescents, the MCV is usually given in 2 doses, at 11 to 12 years and again at 16 years. Adults up to 55 years old with certain medical conditions and those at high risk for the disease may get the vaccine. A booster shot may be needed every 5 years for those who remain at high risk.
    • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) helps prevent pneumococcal disease, such as pneumonia. Children younger than 2 years should get 4 doses of the vaccine. Doses should be given at 2, 4, and 6 months, and at 12 to 15 months. Children aged 2 to 5 years who did not get all the doses, or were given the older type of PCV, also may need the vaccine. Children up to 18 years old who have certain medical conditions may need the vaccine.

Where can I get more information?

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    1600 Clifton Road
    Atlanta , GA 30333
    Phone: 1- 800 - 232-4636
    Web Address:
  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
    NIAID Office of Communications & Government Relations
    5601 Fishers Lane, MSC 9806
    Bethesda, MD 20892-9806
    For deliveries, use Rockville, MD 20852
    Phone: 1- 301 - 496-5717
    Phone: 1- 866 - 284-4107
    Web Address:

When should I contact my child's caregiver?

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child is more fussy or sleepy than usual.
  • You think someone in your family has bacterial meningitis.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition, medicine, or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • Your child is hard to wake.
  • Your child has a headache and stiff neck.
  • Your child is confused.
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child has a red or purple skin rash.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. 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.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.