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October 2015 | Volume 5, Number 10


To see Children's of Alabama experts discuss this topic, click here. 

Fall is a time of year when kids often pick up colds and other viruses. Unfortunately they’re also more at risk of getting something more serious, meningitis.

Meningitis is a disease involving inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. 

There are two types of meningitis: viral and bacterial.

“The prognosis for viral meningitis is very good,” according to Dr. Mark Baker, a physician in the Emergency Department at Children’s of Alabama. “It’s relatively common and usually goes away in about a week. The prognosis for bacterial meningitis depends on how quickly you get treatment.


Viral meningitis

As Dr. Baker indicated, viral meningitis is the most common form. It’s usually less serious than bacterial meningitis. It’s caused by many different types of viruses, including those that infect the skin, urinary tract, or digestive and respiratory systems.

Children with viral meningitis may present a lot of flu like symptoms.

  • These include:
  • fever
  • headache
  • sensitivity to light
  • fatigue
  • fussiness
  • nausea
  • neck stiffness
  • vomiting

To identify meningitis, doctors may do a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) to get a sample of the cerebrospinal fluid for testing. Most people recover on their own within 7-10 days.


Bacterial meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is rare, but is usually more serious and can be life threatening if not treated immediately.

Bacterial meningitis is caused by different types of bacteria. Bacteria that infect the skin, urinary tract, gastrointestinal and respiratory system can spread via the bloodstream to the meninges.

Sometimes bacteria may spread from severe head trauma or a severe local infection, such as a serious ear or nasal infection.

A person with bacterial meningitis may have:

  • fever
  • headache
  • stiff neck
  • sensitivity to light
  • extreme tiredness
  • irritability
  • nausea
  • vomiting

If untreated, bacterial meningitis can lead to seizures, coma and even death.

For this reason Baker said it’s important to see your child’s physician anytime they are ill and don’t seem to be acting like themselves.

“Anytime you think your child is seriously ill, or something doesn’t seem right,” he said. “It’s a good idea to have your doctor check them out or come to the emergency room and have a doctor check them. Also, if your child has had contact with someone who has meningitis, you should call your doctor to see if preventive medication is recommended.”

Treatment for bacterial meningitis includes an extended hospital stay with a strong dose of IV fluids and antibiotics.

There is encouraging news, though, in terms of prevention. Routine immunizations can go a long way toward preventing meningitis. The vaccines against Hib, measles, mumps, polio, meningococcus, and pneumococcus can protect against meningitis caused by these microorganisms.


For more information about meningitis visit

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