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Meningitis in Children

Meningitis in Children Overview

Meningitis is a term used to describe an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain or the spinal cord. Meningitis, especially bacterial meningitis, is a potentially life-threatening condition that can rapidly progress to permanent brain damage, neurologic problems, and even death. Doctors need to diagnose and treat meningitis quickly to prevent or reduce any long-term effects.

  • The inflammation causing meningitis is normally a direct result of either a bacterial infection or a viral infection. However, the inflammation can also be caused by more rare conditions, such as cancer, a drug reaction, a disease of the immune system or from other infectious agents such as fungi (cryptococcal meningitis) or parasites.
  • Normally, meningitis causes fever, lethargy, and a decreased mental status (problems thinking), but these symptoms are often hard to detect in young children.
  • If the infection or resulting inflammation progresses past the membranes of the brain or the spinal cord, then the process is called encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
  • The highest incidence of meningitis is between birth and 2 years, with the greatest risk immediately following birth and at 3-8 months of age. Increased exposure to infections and underlying immune system problems present at birth increase an infant's risk of meningitis.

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Meningitis in Children - Symptoms

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Meningitis, Bacterial »

Bacterial meningitis is a life-threatening illness that results from bacterial infection of the meninges.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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