Meningitis is a life-threatening emergency but fortunately not a common infection. Although most of its victims are younger children, it can occur during middle childhood as well.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, which are the membranes that enclose the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms can develop suddenly, and include fever, chills, vomiting, neck stiffness, headache, and sleepiness, as well as seizures. Upon diagnosis, a child is immediately hospitalized. Doctors will perform a spinal tap-withdrawing fluid from the spinal canal for analysis-in order to confirm the diagnosis.
Meningitis is contagious, so if you know that your child has been exposed to it, keep a careful eye on him. Speed is of the essence, so call you doctor immediately if any of the symptoms listed above occur. Full recovery depends on early diagnosis and hospitalization. Children who have been exposed to meningitis caused by bacteria may need to receive antibiotics to prevent them from becoming ill.
Treatment for meningitis varies, depending on whether it is caused by a virus or bacteria. It is important to find out which of these is the cause, and many of the tests that will be done are to make this determination. Generally, viral meningitis tends to be the less serious form of the disease and may require little more than observation and bed rest. For bacterial meningitis, the treatment is much more vigorous, including immediate hospitalization and antibiotic therapy. The majority of children with bacterial meningitis recover fully. Bear in mind, however, that early and proper treatment is critical; without it, children may die, and those who survive are vulnerable to serious complications, which can range from deafness to mental retardation.
The occurrence of one of the more common type of meningitis (Haemophilus influenzae B) has now been nearly eliminated through immunization; check with your pediatrician for the recommended schedule for these shots.