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What is meningitis? — Meningitis is a condition that can cause fever, headache, and a stiff neck. Meningitis happens when the tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord (called the "meninges") get infected. This can occur after a child has an infection in another part of the body. The germs can travel through the blood to the tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord.
There are 2 main types of meningitis, depending on which germs are causing the infection. "Bacterial meningitis" is caused by bacteria. "Viral meningitis" is caused by viruses.
It is important that doctors figure out if a child has bacterial or viral meningitis. This is because bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency. If bacterial meningitis is not treated quickly, it can lead to brain problems such as deafness or learning problems. Bacterial meningitis can even lead to death. Viral meningitis is usually less serious, and does not usually lead to long-term brain problems or death.
What are the symptoms of meningitis? — Bacterial and viral meningitis can cause many of the same symptoms. These can include:
Stiff neck
Nausea or vomiting
Acting confused, or being hard to wake up
Having light bother a person's eyes
Newborn babies can also have other symptoms that include:
Not feeding well
A bulging soft spot on the skull
Being more sleepy or acting more upset than usual
Sometimes, bacterial and viral meningitis have different symptoms. Children with bacterial meningitis might have seizures or red-purple spots on the skin. Children with viral meningitis might have a runny nose, muscle aches, cough, or a red-pink rash.
When should I bring my child to the doctor? — If you think that your child might have meningitis, bring him or her to the doctor or hospital right away.
Is there a test for meningitis? — Yes. Doctors can do different tests to figure out if a child has meningitis and what type it is. Tests can include:
Blood tests
"Lumbar puncture," also known as a spinal tap – During this procedure, a doctor puts a thin needle in the lower back and removes a small amount of spinal fluid. Spinal fluid is the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. He or she will do lab tests on the spinal fluid.
CT scan, or other imaging tests – Imaging tests can create pictures of the inside of the body.
How is meningitis treated? — Treatment depends on the type of meningitis.
Bacterial meningitis is treated in the hospital with:
Antibiotic medicines that go into a child's vein
Other treatments, such as medicines to keep the blood pressure normal
Viral meningitis is not treated with antibiotics. That's because antibiotics do not kill viruses. Treatment for viral meningitis includes:
Drinking fluids
Medicine to reduce the fever and headache
It can take a few days for test results to show whether a child has bacterial or viral meningitis. But bacterial meningitis needs to be treated quickly, so doctors usually start antibiotics right away. Then, doctors wait for the test results to know if they should continue or stop the antibiotics.
Can meningitis be spread from one person to another? — Yes. The bacteria and viruses that cause meningitis can be spread from one person to another.
Can meningitis be prevented? — To help reduce the chance of getting meningitis, you can:
Make sure that your child gets the vaccines your doctor or nurse recommends – Certain vaccines can reduce the chance of your child getting meningitis.
If someone in your home has meningitis, you can:
Avoid spreading germs – For example, wash your hands before eating, and do not share cups or silverware.
Ask your doctor or nurse about taking antibiotics – Sometimes doctors prescribe antibiotics for other people at home to prevent them from getting meningitis.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 15649 Version 8.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
© 2020 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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