Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
Meningitis is an infection of the meninges (the covering of
the brain and spinal cord). Children with meningitis often
have sudden symptoms of fever, headache, and neck stiffness.
Children may also have nausea, vomiting, and a worse
headache when in a lighted area. They may become confused
or difficult to awaken. Meningitis can resemble a bad case
of the flu.
In bacterial meningitis, the bacteria can spread directly
from a nearby sinus infection, or the bacteria can spread
through the bloodstream from an infection in another part of
It is very important to determine whether a virus or
bacteria are causing the meningitis. While children with
viral meningitis usually get better without special
treatment, bacterial meningitis can be life-threatening. It
is for this reason that your child may need to undergo a
test called a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).
A lumbar puncture is a procedure in which a hollow needle is
inserted in the lower back to withdraw a small amount of
spinal fluid. This procedure is very safe. By examining
the fluid, the doctor can determine if the meningitis is
viral or bacterial.
Bacterial meningitis is a serious, life-threatening illness.
Children with bacterial meningitis may recover without any
problems if the infection was detected within the first few
hours and treated with antibiotics. Even with appropriate
treatment, some types of meningitis can cause brain damage
ranging from deafness to paralysis.
Your child will receive antibiotics intravenously (IV, or
through a vein) and other supportive care in the hospital.
The IV antibiotics are given for 2 weeks. When your child is
released from the hospital antibiotics are no longer needed.
The bacteria causing the meningitis can be passed from
person to person. The length of time your child will be
contagious can be anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks, depending
on the type of bacteria. Your doctor will let you know when
your child is no longer contagious and can return to normal
activities. Until then, you should follow these precautionary
- Wash your child's hands frequently.
- Wash your hands frequently and make sure anyone who has
contact with your child does the same.
- Do not let family members share cups or utensils.
- Avoid contact with saliva, such as by kissing your child.
Call Your Child's Physician IMMEDIATELY If:
- Your child starts to act very sick.
- You or someone who has had contact with your child
develops symptoms of meningitis.
Call Your Child's Physician Within 24 Hours If:
- You have other questions or concerns.