Babies less than 1 month old are most at risk for severe meningitis. Although symptoms may go unnoticed, early diagnosis saves lives and reduces sequelae.

Meningitis in babies is a rare but dangerous infection. When it comes to very young children, as are neonates, up to one month of life. It is caused by germs that can be viruses, bacteria, or fungi.

It can present long-term complications, although it is resolved in a satisfactory way in the beginning. The little ones suffer, in the long term, learning difficulties and vision problems, so their immediate diagnosis is essential.

So how do you recognize the symptoms of meningitis in babies? What should we do if we suspect a picture in a small child? Keep reading and you will find out.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection that causes inflammation of the delicate membranes that protect the brain and spinal cord, which are called meninges. A baby can get meningitis when bacteria, viruses, or fungi that infect another part of his body travel through the bloodstream to his brain and spinal cord.

Among the causative germs, viruses are the most frequent, and in turn the ones that tend to generate a less serious condition and with less chance of long-term sequelae. On the other hand, bacteria, although less common, present a greater severity and permanent future consequences.

In this sense, having a complete and up-to-date vaccination is a way to prevent infection, and also the future problems that meningitis can bring in babies. Among the sequels, the following have been described:

  • Learning and development difficulties.
  • Vision problems, even blindness.
  • Seizures.
  • Brain damage.
  • Hydrocephalus.

Babies are at higher risk for meningitis  compared to older children. In turn, children under 2 months of age are more likely to be infected, according to the Centers for disease, control and prevention(CDC). This reveals that age plays a fundamental role in gravity.

Symptoms of meningitis in babies

Meningitis in babies can quickly progress to serious forms, especially if it is caused by bacteria. For this reason, it is essential to know your symptoms and seek medical attention immediately if you suspect it.

The symptoms of bacterial meningitis appear suddenly, over a period of hours, with little staggering from one sign to the next. On the other hand, with viral meningitis it is different, since the symptoms can appear with the passing of the days.

At first, there may be no alarm, since certain symptoms are confused with usual states of pediatric age. There are babies who seem irritable with anger, with inconsolable crying despite being in the arms of an adult, and less active or energetic than usual.

It also happens that he is offered to sleep or eat, and there is no suitable answer. Or on the contrary, the child sleeps too much, as if he had a constant dream, with difficulty waking up, despite noises and calls.

Usual signs

The most common symptoms of meningitis in babies are not exclusive, that is, they may appear overlapping each other. Those that we tell you here are not the whole, but they are the most relevant.

The bulging fontanelle is the increased pressure of the soft parts of the head of the baby. The normal thing is that these structures have a normal tension, but that they do not protrude out of the limits. With crying and vomiting, which are also signs of pediatric meningitis, the bulge is greater.

The fever is not always present, although when it appears it guides the diagnosis quite a bit. Children under 3 months may not present it, since their temperature regulation system is still immature. On the other hand, they may have chills, which are indicative.

The stiff neck or maintenance of the head is tilted back a classic signal. The neck becomes hard and it is difficult to mobilize that area. In addition, upon palpation the muscular hardness installed there is perceived.

The baby with meningitis has uncontrollable crying that results in irritability. It can be a complaint of pain or fever, and perhaps even of the neurological processes that the brain carries out under the pressure of inflammation of the meninges. Be that as it may, this state prevents them from eating properly and falling asleep.

Persistent vomiting adds to the problem of eating. If they are not resolved quickly, the next step is dehydration, since we are dealing with a child who does not eat and loses electrolytes without replacing them.

The photophobia can be difficult to detect, but appears as irritant response. A direct light on the baby’s vision irritates him more and exacerbates his crying. This is combined with confusion and, in specific cases, is the trigger for seizures.

What to do if meningitis is suspected in babies?

If a baby has a fever, appears ill, is irritable, and is not feeding, immediate medical attention is suggested. As a general rule, in younger children the consultation should not be delayed, since many conditions progress to a state of seriousness quickly.

Also, the younger the baby is, the more severe symptoms tend to seem less alarming than in older babies. They should not be minimized, but on the contrary, timely diagnosis and treatment will help ensure a better outcome in the course of the disease.


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