Meningitis: How to Spot The Signs

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Babies and young children are more susceptible than adults to illness and disease because their immune systems are still forming.

Due to this vulnerability, meningitis is more prevalent amongst little ones. As a parent, it is important to understand the warning signs and find ways to protect both you and your child against meningitis.

Listeriosis: what is it?

Mums-to-be are at a higher risk of contracting listeriosis, a bacterial infection that can lead to meningitis. Listeriosis is not usually harmful to pregnant women and can feel like a mild flu case with body aches and a high temperature. However, it can be dangerous for an unborn baby if passed on to him from the mother. The bacteria can be found in food but will usually be killed if cooked or reheated thoroughly. Though the chance of being infected by this disease as a pregnant mum is very small – about one in every 20,000 pregnant women will be affected – it is important to go to your GP if you suspect an infection. Listeriosis can be detected by your GP through a blood or urine test.

Meningitis: what is it?

Meningitis occurs when the lining around the brain and spinal cord becomes inflamed. Almost any microbe can cause meningitis; however, it is usually bacterial or viral and occasionally due to fungal infections. Viral meningitis is more common and milder form, but bacterial meningitis can come in many different and dangerous forms. When bacteria enter the bloodstream and migrate to the brain and spinal cord they can result in acute bacterial meningitis. It can also occur when bacteria are able to enter the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord directly due to a sinus infection or a skull fracture. Meningococcal disease is the most common serious type of bacterial meningitis to be acquired by individuals. In the UK about four out of every 100,000 people will get Meningococcal each year.

What are the symptoms?

Signs of infection include a tense or bulging soft spot on your baby’s head, a purple-red rash, a refusal to feed and irritability when picked up – with a high-pitched or moaning cry. He may have a stiff body with jerky movements, or appear limp and lifeless. An infected baby may also experience high temperatures, throbbing headaches, vomiting, fast breathing, extreme shivering, cold hands and feet and may develop a dislike to bright lights. He may have a stiff neck and be unable to put his head to his chest.

If your child has any of the above symptoms or you suspect he may have meningitis it is imperative that you take him to the hospital immediately. It is far better to be safe than sorry. Most meningitis infections occur in babies and children under the age of five. The disease can be spread through coughing, sneezing, kissing, contact with infected blood, or contact with contaminated food or water. If the disease is acquired, it normally takes up to five days for visible symptoms to appear.

The glass test

A way of checking whether a rash on you or your child’s body signifies meningitis is by performing the glass test. To carry out the glass test, you must press a clear drinking glass firmly against the affected area. If the spots of the rash do not fade in response to the pressure being placed upon it, this could be a sign of a medical emergency and you must take your baby to the hospital immediately. The rash may also be accompanied by a fever. For more information read our feature on Meningitis.

What is the treatment?

Treatment for bacterial meningitis is vital, as 10-20 percent of all cases are fatal. Urgent hospital treatment of antibiotics and other remedies are given to any individuals found to have Meningitis. If left untreated it can result in other severe disabilities such as deafness and brain damage.

How can I protect my child?

To protect against meningitis there are available vaccines, however no vaccine can protect against all forms of the disease. Due to a national UK immunisation programme for meningitis C, babies are given the meningitis C vaccine along with their other immunisations at two, three and four months of age. However, there is no vaccine for cases of meningococcal disease, which is the most common form of the disease in the UK. The lack of a vaccine makes it even more vital to know and understand the symptoms of the disease.

Categories: Baby care

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