Meningitis is a serious and potentially deadly illness affecting infants and children. It’s one of the most common reasons for pediatric malpractice claims as well because it is challenging to diagnose. Often, doctors misdiagnose or fail to diagnose meningitis in children, and especially infants, leading to further harm and damage that may not be reversible.
There are certain things parents should know about meningitis, as it is life-threatening if untreated. If you understand a bit more about the illness, then you may be better equipped to spot potential red flags in your own child.
What is Meningitis?
Meningitis is relatively rare, but this serious disease causes inflammation around the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord. While it tends to be more common in infants and children, it can also occur in adults.
Meningitis can be caused by either a viral or bacterial infection.
Viral meningitis in children often leads to a full recovery. Viral meningitis is passed from person-to-person respiratory droplets. Bacterial meningitis can cause an infection in the bloodstream, and it can lead to more serious complications than viral meningitis often.
There are rare instances where meningitis is caused by certain medicines or other types of illnesses.
The actual bacteria and viruses that cause meningitis are common and lead to other illnesses.
For example, viruses that cause meningitis include colds and the flu.
Signs and Symptoms of Meningitis
In younger children, the symptoms of meningitis may become apparent after anywhere from two to four days after the initial infection. In children who are older than 10, symptoms may be more sudden.
Symptoms can include confusion, fever rash, and vomiting, Seizures, headache, lethargy irritability, sensitivity to light, refusing to eat, and stiff neck are also symptoms of meningitis in children.
Meningitis in Infants
The symptoms of meningitis in infants can be different than older children and more difficult to spot. Babies might be irritable, food poorly, and be hard to wake up. It can be hard to comfort them, they may have a fever and they may have a soft spot on their head called a bulging fontanelle.
Other infant symptoms of meningitis include jaundice, which means a yellow tint to the skin, stiffness of the neck and body, and a weak suck. A high-pitched cry and a lower than normal temperature can also be indicative of meningitis in babies.
While, as has been mentioned, anyone can get meningitis, babies under two are at the highest risk. 90% of babies who develop meningitis do survive, despite the fact that it can be serious.
If a health care provider suspects meningitis, they may order a set of tests, including a spinal tap, also known as a lumbar puncture. That is to collect a fluid sample. This test can show inflammation. It can also be used to determine if an infection is viral or bacterial.
Other tests that might be used to diagnose meningitis include blood tests to look for sign of infection, a CT scan of the head to see if there’s a pocket of infection, and blood cultures. Blood cultures are removed from the vein and then spread on plates that viruses, fungi, and bacteria can grow on. If something grows on culture, that’s a likely cause of the meningitis infection.
Meningitis Among College Students
Meningitis becomes common in college students because of the setting in which they live. College students are often in large groups, share housing, and they engage in close proximity and contact.
To be infected with meningitis, there are shared throat and respiratory secretions.
Freshmen and students living in dorms are most at risk among the college student demographic to contract meningitis. In college students, meningitis is most frequently caused by bacteria called Neisseria meningitis. Around one in 10 people can have the bacteria without showing symptoms, so they can be carriers.
Most patients will develop symptoms similar to the flu, however, the condition can worsen quickly and can lead to rapid death.
There are two types of meningitis vaccinations available to help with different viral strains. There is one vaccine protecting from A, C, W, and Y serogroups. This has been available for more than 30 years. Then, there’s also a relatively newer vaccine that targets type B.
Both vaccines are advised by the CDC for different groups of people, and especially college students. Overall, meningitis remains rare but still something parents should be aware of. It can affect anyone, but especially infants and college students in certain situations.