In this section
Meningitis happens when the
meninges (the membrane covering the brain and the spinal
cord) becomes swollen (inflamed). Meningitis is usually
caused by either bacterial or viral infections. Bacterial
meningitis can get worse very quickly.
The signs and symptoms of meningitis can be
different depending on:
They may include:
The germs that cause bacterial meningitis
are very common and are naturally found in the nose and throat of
about one in every 10 people. They can be spread from person
to person by coughing, sneezing, kissing
or sharing eating or drinking utensils. Very close
contact is needed for the infection to be transferred to another
A link has been made
between developing meningitis and:
Your child's treatment and care depends on the
type of meningitis he or she has. They will be given antibiotics
directly into a vein (intravenous, or IV), until the type of
meningitis is diagnosed.
Treatment includes admission to hospital
Most people will make a full recovery after
meningitis, but it can take time.
To diagnose meningitis your child will need a
lumbar puncture (see Kids Health Info factsheet: Lumbar Puncture). This is a safe test which is done by an
experienced doctor who inserts a needle into your child's
lower back, between the bones of the spine, to take a sample of the
fluid around the spine (called cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF). A diagnosis of meningitis is
made by examining this fluid and doing blood tests. The
results from these tests can take two to three days to come back.
There are two types of meningitis:
The regular checks made on your child during their stay in hospital may include:
While in hospital, the doctors caring for your
child will discuss their progress and any further tests that may
be needed with you. If meningococcal meningitis is
suspected, it may be necessary for people who have had close contact with your child to
Depending upon the age of your child, the type
of bacteria and other factors, intravenous antibiotic treatment may
be required for up to three weeks.
If your child has bacterial meningitis they
may be able to finish their antibiotics by intravenous therapy at
home. This is called hospital in the home (HITH), or Wallaby Ward. Your doctor may
talk to you about this if your child's condition has improved.
A nurse from the RCH visits your child at home to give
antibiotics and any other nursing care that is needed.
This is only possible if you live close to the
hospital and your child is suitable for this care.
The possible after-effects of meningitis may
After your child goes home, further tests may
be needed to ensure their health. These tests will include a
hearing test, as a small number of children who have had meningitis may
develop problems with their hearing. Your child will also be reviewed in
one of the specialist clinics to check their recovery.
Some children may be left with permanent
damage and disability. Your doctor will be able to give you more information
about your child's long term outlook.
Several of the bacteria which cause meningitis
can be largely prevented by the routine childhood immunisations.
Making sure your child is fully up to date with these immunisations
is the best way to prevent meningitis.
If a certain type of meningitis is diagnosed,
the doctor may recommend for those people who have been in
close contact with the infected person to take
antibiotics as a precaution to prevent meningitis infection. You
will be advised if this is necessary.
Developed in consultation with the RCH
5th Floor Medical Unit. First published: 2003. Reviewed