Meningitis in babies: What you need to know

Meningitis is a condition that causes inflammation in the meninges, which protect the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is most often caused by a virus or bacteria.

Meningitis is an uncommon but potentially dangerous infection. Babies under 2 months of age are at greater risk of getting meningitis due to their immature immune systems.

Meningitis can have lasting effects on babies and can be fatal in some cases. However, prompt medical treatment can significantly reduce the risk of serious complications.

Symptoms

The symptoms of meningitis in babies may not be alarming at first. Some babies may simply appear irritable or tired.Meningitis can become serious quickly, so it is essential to be aware of its symptoms and to seek medical care immediately if meningitis is suspected.

The most common symptoms of meningitis in babies include:

  • Bulging fontanel (the soft spot on top of the head). This may be due to increased pressure or fluid in the brain.
  • Fever. A high temperature is a red flag for an infection, but some babies, especially those under 3 months of age, may not have a fever.
  • Cold hands and feet with a warm torso.
  • Chills. This may include shivering or chills, with or without a fever.
  • A stiff neck. Babies may hold their bodies in a stiff position and may hold their head tilted back.
  • Irritability and crying, especially when picked up. This could be due to a sore or stiff neck or muscle and body aches.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Vomiting persistently.
  • Refusing to feed.
  • Extreme sleepiness. A person may have difficulty with or be unable to wake the baby.
  • Red or dark rash or marks on the body. If a baby has a fever, appears ill, and develops a rash, seek medical care right away.

Babies with symptoms of meningitis should get emergency medical care. Prompt and aggressive treatment helps ensure a better outcome.

Causes

The most common causes of meningitis in babies are bacteria and viruses. Bacterial meningitis is more dangerous than viral meningitis, though both require prompt medical care.

Causes of viruses include:Non-polio enteroviruses, Influenza, Herpes simplex viruses (HSV), Varicella-zoster virus, Measles and mumps, West Nile virus or other viruses spread by mosquitoes.

Most of these viruses don’t cause meningitis in a healthy person. However, babies are at a higher risk of meningitis and other complications, so protecting them from these illnesses is vital.

Causes of bacterial meningitis: Group B streptococcus, known as group B strep, Escherichia coli (E. coli), Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib),  Listeria monocytogenes, Neisseria meningitidis,

Prevention

Meningitis can spread easily from person to person. Although it cannot be prevented completely, some precautions can significantly reduce the risk of a baby getting it.

Vaccines are the key

Although vaccines do not prevent all cases of meningitis, they help protect against several types of serious bacterial and viral meningitis. This greatly reduces the risk of a baby getting the disease.

Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) vaccine

Hib vaccine is given at 2, 4, and 6 months of age, and again between 12 and 15 months of age. Hib vaccine is given either alone or in a combination vaccine.

Pneumococcal vaccine

Pneumococcus bacteria can cause meningitis and other serious infections, such as pneumonia. The pneumococcal vaccine is typically given at 2, 4, and 6 months of age, followed by a final dose between 12 and 15 months of age.

Children with certain health conditions may get an additional dose between 2 and 5 years of age.

Meningococcal vaccine ( Menactra and Menveo )

The most common type of meningococcal vaccine is known as the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4). This vaccine is  given to babies above 9 months of age and older. 

MMR vaccine

The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella.The MMR vaccine is given at 9 months, 12 to 15 months of age and again at 4 through 6 years of age.

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