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Bacterial Meningitis in Children
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
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 increases my child's risk for bacterial meningitis?
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.
What are the signs and symptoms of bacterial meningitis?
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
How is bacterial meningitis diagnosed?
Your child's healthcare provider will examine your child and ask about his or her signs and symptoms. Tell him or her if your child was recently around anyone who has bacterial meningitis. Your child may also need any of the following:
- Blood tests are used to check for the bacteria that cause meningitis.
- CT or MRI pictures may show signs of infection. Your child may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not let your child enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has any metal in or on his or her body.
- A lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, is a procedure used to take a sample of fluid that surrounds your child's spinal cord. Your child's healthcare provider will insert a needle into his or her spine. The fluid will be taken through the needle. The fluid will be tested for the bacteria that cause meningitis.
- A throat culture is a test that may help find the type of germ causing your child's illness. A throat culture is done by rubbing a cotton swab against the back of the throat.
How is bacterial meningitis treated?
- Antibiotics help treat a bacterial infection.
- Steroids decrease redness, pain, and swelling.
- Seizure medicine helps 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.
How can I manage my 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.
How can I help prevent the spread of bacterial meningitis?
- Wash your and your child's hands often. Use soap and water. Have your child wash his or her hands after he or she uses the bathroom or sneezes. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.
- Do not let your child share food or drinks. Discard tissues after he or she uses them to wipe or blow his or her nose.
- Get vaccines as directed. Vaccines help protect your child and others around him or her from diseases caused by infection.
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:
- Your child is hard to wake.
- Your child has a seizure.
When should I seek immediate care?
- 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.
When should I call my child's doctor?
- 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.
Care AgreementYou 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 healthcare providers 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.
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