An inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain or the spinal cord, either viral or bacterial.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It is most commonly caused by a virus, but can also be bacterial. Most at risk for the disease are children under five, teens and young adults, as well as anyone whose immune system is already compromised. The symptoms of meningitis are a fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, aversion to bright light, drowsiness, distress on handling, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. A baby may have a tense or bulging fontanelle, and be reluctant to feed.
What to do
There is a vaccine against certain types of meningitis, which the government recommends be given to all babies from 6 weeks. If you suspect meningitis, contact your doctor immediately. There is no cure for viral meningitis, but it usually passes fairly quickly. Treatment is with paracetamol to control pain and fever. Bacterial meningitis is more serious and may require hospitalisation. It is treated with antibiotics.
- Severe headache
- Sensitivity to bright light or loud noises
- Rigid muscles, especially of the neck
- Bacterial meningitis may develop into increasing drowsiness, convulsions or loss of consciousness.
- There may be flat pink or purple spots on the skin that don't fade when you press on them.
- Viral meningitis can be mild, but bacterial meningitis is life threatening.
- Take your child to a doctor or hospital immediately if you suspect meningitis for diagnosis and treatment.
- A course of high-dose antibiotics will be started even before doctors know whether the meningitis is caused by a virus or bacterium.
- Diagnosis is done via a lumbar puncture, where a hollow needle is inserted into the spine to draw spinal fluid from the spinal canal.