Meningitis in Children

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MENINGES

Meningitis is one of the fatal diseases to plague mankind. Meningitis directly affects the brain leading to seizures, brain damage and other long-term mentally damaging effects. As disastrous as this might seem, medical science today has progressed to a paint where meningitis can be identified in time, preventive measures can be established and contracted meningitis can be treated effectively.

What is Meningitis ?

Meningitis is a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord of the body. The primary effect it has on these tissues is extreme inflammation which can directly affect the brain, too. The membranes that are present in this region are termed as meninges and their very function is to protect the brain and the spinal cord. This is despite the presence of the vertebral spine to protect the cord from external shocks.

Which Children are Prone to Meningitis?

When it comes to young children and kids, it has been observed that anyone under the age of 5 is highly prone to contracting meningitis. They are particularly vulnerable since their body has not had the time to develop an immune system strong enough to fight off the meningitis infection.

Types of Meningitis

There are two common types of meningitis,

1. Viral Meningitis

Caused primarily by a virus family termed as enterovirus, the chances of infection are slightly higher in the periods of June to October. Any kind of direct contact with faecal matter such as through diapers or indirect contact via food, water, and areas that might be contaminated with the virus can cause an infection. Other virus family spread the infection through airborne media or animal and insect bites.

2. Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is the worst of the two. The bacteria that can cause the infection are numerous since each strain has an affinity towards children of a specific age, vaccines, and any unique medical problems. If a child has been exposed to someone having bacterial meningitis, or has been facing infection in ears or nose, or has travelled to areas where susceptibility is high or has had a head injury, the bacteria prefer to attack such children as they are easy targets.

What Causes Meningitis?

There are multiple factors that reveal how a child gets meningitis in the first place.

  1. In case of newborn infants, meningitis occurs when their bloodstream is infected. Termed as sepsis, this infection occurs as a result of blood being contaminated by the bacteria of the mother’s birth canal.
  2. With children and slightly older infants, infection enters the body through secretion in respiratory areas, such as mucus and saliva. Currently, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Neisseria meningitides are the primary bacteria for infection.
  3. If the child or infant is present in locations where there is a large overcrowding of people or certain environments where smoke is present, there are chances of the infection finding its way to the child or infant.

How Meningitis Infection is Transmitted?

Most of the meningitis infection occurs when the organisms can infect the person through direct contact. These infectors make their home in the respiratory region of a child after he comes in contact with people having the infection or objects and surfaces that are contaminated by the microbes. Starting from the respiratory tract, the infection rides into the body via the blood, making its way to the brain and the spinal cord.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs of meningitis in toddlers can be spotted with the following symptoms

  1. The child suddenly starts having an inadequate appetite and wouldn’t want to eat anything. He might suffer from repetitive vomiting, too.
  2. He might be tired for long periods of time with low energy and start showing rashes all over the body.
  3. In case of babies, the frontal portion of their heads may show a swelling and their neck may get tight and rigid, too.
  4. Certain children may experience extreme mood swings and have seizures as well.
  5. The body may start showing tiny red and purple spots all over, which are termed as petechiae. These occur due to internal bleeding under the skin and are a strong symptom of bacterial meningitis.
  6. If your child lies down on his back and his knees jerk upwards while the neck bends forward automatically, this is a popular symptom of meningitis, termed as the Brudzinski sign.
  7. Along with petechiae, there are certain spots of the same colour that will not turn to white even when pressured. These blood spots are also a sign of meningitis.
  8. Another strong sign of meningitis is the Kernig sign. This is where the child is asked to flex the thigh at a right angle while lying down flat. If he experiences pain and resistance in the movement, that indicates meningitis.

DIAGNOSIS

How is Meningitis Diagnosed in Children?

Following the meningitis symptoms in children, the infection is diagnosed with the following tests.

  • Use of nasal, rectal and throat swabs to gather the bacteria in the region and diagnose them for viral infection of meningitis.
  • CT scans and MRI scans help diagnose if there is any inflammation in the meninges of the area of the brain.
  • Blood tests are the primary check to start looking for viruses and bacteria and recognise them if they can cause meningitis.
  • Spinal tap or lumbar puncture is the only conclusive test for meningitis. By placing a needle in the lower back directly into the spinal canal, the pressure in the cerebral and canal area is measured. Doctors may withdraw a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid for lab analysis to diagnose the infection or other problems.

Complications of Meningitis in a Child

Bacterial meningitis, at its highest severity, can lead to several complications that can be long-term, too. These could range from brain damage, hearing loss, seizures, and in certain cases, disability, too. In extremely severe cases, meningitis could be fatal, too.

Treatments and Medications for Meningitis in Kids

  1. Initially, a breathing tube may be inserted for the child if he’s having respiratory issues.
  2. Heart rate, oxygen levels, and other monitors are connected to observe the vital signs.
  3. Maintaining the blood pressure and continuing circulation in the brain is important, which is supported by IV fluids to correct dehydration as well.
  4. Urine catheter might be inserted to keep a check on the child’s hydration levels.
  5. Children suffering from bacterial meningitis are admitted to a pediatric ICU since they are at a higher risk.
  6. Children suffering from viral meningitis show improvements sooner and can recover better at home. Medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen are prescribed to keep pain and fever in check. He needs to be observed for a period of 24 hours for any relapse.

Home Remedies for Child Meningitis

  • Once proper treatment is administered, the child should undertake enough bed rest to recover to good health.
  • Fluid intake should be at an all-time high to increase circulation and maintain hydrated levels in the body.
  • Quick medications to reduce a headache and fever can be administered to prevent high body temperatures.
  • To prevent a relapse of the infection, antibiotics will be advised by the doctor to keep things in check.

Follow-Up for Meningitis

After treatment of meningitis, your child can still experience tiredness, headaches, clumsiness, and have difficulties in concentrating on things. Certain tests might need to be undertaken to check their hearing capabilities. If your child, unfortunately, has lost limbic functions in certain areas, the doctor would need to check these again in the following clinic visit.

How Can You Prevent Your Child from Getting Meningitis?

The best way to prevent meningitis is childhood vaccination. These prevent any kind of infection by and large. In case anybody around the child has been diagnosed with meningitis, it is best to consult the doctor since they would probably prescribe antibiotics to keep the infection at bay, as a preventive measure.

Meningitis is a horrifying and debilitating disease with disastrous consequences. By being prepared in advance, taking routine vaccinations and staying up-to-date with them, and talking to your child if you observe any symptoms, the disease can be prevented from getting worse and keep your child healthy at all times.

Also read: Epilepsy In ChildrenPaediatric Medulloblastoma