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 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 that have any symptoms that could be meningitis should get emergency medical care. Prompt and aggressive treatment helps ensure a better outcome.
Treating meningitis in babies
Bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics that are typically given intravenously in the hospital through an IV.
According to the AAP, most babies who receive prompt antibiotic treatment will recover completely. However, about 20 percent may be left with lifelong effects, including hearing problems, learning disabilities, seizures, and paralysis.
Viral meningitis does not respond to antibiotics. It is usually not as serious as bacterial meningitis (except for HSV in newborns), and many babies will recover completely without complications.
However, both types of meningitis require prompt medical attention. Babies may need extra hydration with IV fluids, pain relief, monitoring, and rest in order to make a full recovery.
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