Richmond Practice - Meningitis in children

Meningitis in children
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What should I do if I suspect that my child has meningitis?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord and can be a very serious illness. This depends very much on the type of infection. While most patients recover entirely after viral meningitis, some are left deaf, or blind, or die as a result of bacterial meningitis. One of the biggest problems with meningitis is that it can develop very quickly. Also, the symptoms can be difficult to distinguish from other, less serious, infections.

Symptoms of meningitis to look for depend on the age of the child:

Older children will often complain of
  • a severe headache
  • a stiff neck
  • an aversion to bright lights
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • cold hands and feet
  • aching muscles and joints
  • stomach pain
  • drowsiness or even loss of consciousness.
Babies and toddlers symptoms can be much less specific:
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • refusal to feed
  • irritability
  • a high-pitched, moaning cry.
More specifically in babies you may observe:
  • a tense or bulging fontanel (the soft spot on the top of the baby's head)
  • blotchy or pale skin
  • rapid breathing
  • a floppy body or stiffness with jerky movements.
If septicaemia (blood poisoning) is also present, a meningitis rash may develop that first looks like tiny red pin pricks. Later, the rash changes to purplish red blotches. If you press on the rash with a glass, the spots will not fade.

Any suspicion of meningitis is a medical emergency requiring immediate hospital treatment.

In the UK we offer children vaccination against three of the main causes of bacterial meningitis:
  • meningitis C
  • new: meningitis B
  • Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type B)
  • pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumoniae). 

Consult your doctor if:
  • you want more information and advice on the vaccines available.
At Elsbeth's Doctors we offer the usual UK vaccinations as well as vaccination against meningococcal groups A, C, W and Yin (common in the "meningitis belt" of sub-Saharan Africa.) A vaccine against meningococcal group B, which is now the most frequent cause of bacterial meningitis in Britain, has recently been developed and it is now available at Beth's Doctors.

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