Meningitis in Children had been a disease with high mortality rates and increased fatality before the arrival of immunization vaccines. The most deadly form of meningitis aggravates within hours of infection, and if not attended to immediately, the child may die.
Meningitis is the inflammation of the tissues covering the brain and spinal cord, referred to as the meninges, and hence the name “Meningitis”. Meningitis is a killer disease whereby once the brain is inflamed and swells up, cerebral liquid pressure spreads across the body. Nerves are interfered with, and major functions like hearing are impaired.
However, the lethal killer factor in Meningitis is Septicaemia. The meningitis-causing bacteria/virus spreads infection into the bloodstream, triggering the immune system to cause sepsis, a condition also known as blood poisoning. Blood leaks from vessels, clots are formed, and the skin is perforated with purple spots.
Septic shock is heightened sepsis, whereby blood pressure falls dramatically. Crucial body organs shut down leading to imminent death. All these happen in a short span of 12 hours if there is no medical intervention, an aspect that makes sepsis and meningitis very fatal.
Symptoms of Meningitis in Children
- Headache. Swelling and compression in the brain causes rampant headaches. These are the earliest symptoms of meningitis.
- Fever. Inflammation of the Central Nervous System induces fever throughout the body with heat flashes.
- Loss of appetite and vomiting. As a result of fever the baby will also detest food and breastmilk.
- Skin rashes. Septicemia will cause purple skin rashes that do not disappear in the glass test.
- Seizures. These will happen more frequently due to the inflammation close to the brain and damage to nerves.
- Impaired hearing. Both infants and older children will develop hearing problems, as a result of nerve damages caused by meningitis.
Young infants under 1 years-age will exhibit different symptoms from older children. For instance, infants will not develop a stiff neck from meningitis, a symptom that is very common in children above 2 years, teenages and adults.
Causes (or Types) of Meningitis among Children
The two main causes and hence types of meningitis are bacterial and aseptic meningitis.
Bacterial infections are the most common cause and form of meningitis. Bacterial infections into the bloodstream referred to as sepsis spreads from the bloodstream into the meninges of the spine and brain, resulting in inflammation.
Major bacteria attributed to this condition are Escherichia coli and Listeria monocytogenes, both of which are acquired by the baby from the birth canal, thereby spreading infection into the newborn postnatally.
Bacteria infecting neonates and older children are different. In older children beyond 1years, major bacterial pathogens that spread meningitis are Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis and Haemophilus influenzae. Advances in vaccination have since eliminated Haemophilus influenzae from agents of meningitis. However, the pathogen is readily infectious for those without the Influenza vaccine.
Children exposed to bacterial meningitis
Bacterial meningitis is spread through contact, although in rare cases bacteria can be domiciled in food and drinks.
- Mothers with bacterial infections. Mother-to-child infection is the common mode of infection to young infants, which happens through microbiota exchange during birth. Exposure to birth canal microbiota is inevitable, and hence the only way to prevent infection is prior treatment of the parent.
- Human contact with infected persons. Human-to-human contact is the most common mode of bacterial meningitis spread in older infants, teenagers, and adults. However, brief contact is not enough. Most bacteria that spread meningitis have very short lifespans outside the human body, and thus will require extended contact to stage an infection. Many of those in contact with the bacteria might not get infected themselves, but stand to infect others as carriers of the bacteria.
- Contaminated food. Escherichia coli, a principal agent of meningitis, is spread through contaminated food. Individuals who do not wash hands after visiting the toilet and prepare food immediately may spread the bacteria to those who eat the food.
Other forms of meningitis not caused by bacteria are grouped in this category:
- Viruses including the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Herpes virus, Mumps virus, Influenza, Measles, and West Nile viruses.
- More rarely, meningitis can also be caused by fungi, drug allergies, tuberculosis, syphilis, the Lyme disease, and other inflammatory diseases.
Viral infection by enteroviruses may not immediately translate to a meningitic infection, and the chances are also lower in other aseptic factors. Meningitis resulting from viral and fungal infections have different development speeds depending on the pathogens staging the infection.
Infants and older children suffer most from viral infections while neonates contract the disease from bacteria in the birth canal during birth. Aseptic meningitis is safely unfatal, and might go away on its own in less than 10 days. Bacterial meningitis, however, is fatally deadly, and claims extremely high mortality rates.
Children exposed to viral meningitis
The above list of viruses can be spread through conventional modes such as fluids, fecal contact, among others.
- Close contact with infected persons or carriers. Viral meningitis is mostly spread through contact with cough, saliva, sweat, and any other fluids from persons with infected persons. Children spending hours in crowded settings such as schools are at an increased risk.
- Contact with infected fecal matter. Feces carry loads of pathogens, among them viruses and fungi that cause meningitis.
- Children with immune-suppressing diseases. Most of those who come into contact with viruses will be spared if they possess strong immune systems. Children living with immune-suppressing diseases such as AIDs will, however, suffer greatly from the least contact with the meningitis viruses.
- Immunization – meningitis infection from the Hemophilus influenzae has since been eliminated due to widespread vaccinations. Similarly, other immunizable bacteria and viruses like Herpes, Measles, and Mumps can be mitigated through immunization. Consider the following guide on immunization.
- Sanitation measures – Escherichia coli and a host of other bacteria/viruses spread through contact can be eliminated through proper sanitation, especially in zones suspected of infections. Children visiting crowded places should practice washing their hands regularly. Adults should clean their hands properly after coming from the toilet, especially if they intend to handle children’s food.
- Mosquito nets or sprays. Viruses also spread through mosquito bites, which is why children should be protected from mosquitoes by all means. Nets should be used during the night, and additionally, anti-mosquito sprays can also be called into action.
Takeaway: Meningitis is a killer disease, deadly among children because of their weak immunities, underdeveloped body organs, and exposure to bacterial and viral hazards. Adults have a monumental role to play in the health of children, through providing safe and clean environments, and observing sanitation themselves to keep bacteria and viruses at bay.