Meningitis in Children: Should We Fear It?

Just the word meningitis sends shivers down your spine as this infection can be horrible. However, not all meningitis is created equal. We take stock with Dr. Erianna Bellaton, pediatrician.

It all starts with an infection, usually mild: sore throat, nasopharyngitis, otitis, etc. Then the germ in question can pass through the mucous membranes and cause infection of the meninges (three membranes that surround the brain) and the cerebrospinal fluid they contain. “Among the little ones meningitis is usually manifested by feverthe child is a bit soft, grumpy, sometimes sleepy, he no longer has much appetite, his fontanelle may bulge” points to Dr. Erianna Bellaton, pediatrician. “From about 3 years, the symptoms evolve and the child may suffer from neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting, he cannot stand the light, we are talking about photophobia.

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If the doctor suspects meningitis, he will refer the child to the nearest hospital. A lumbar puncture (sampling of cerebrospinal fluid) will make it possible to find the origin, viral or bacterial, of the disease, because the treatment depends on it. While waiting for the results a few hours later, the child may already benefit from intravenous antibiotic therapy.

Viral or Bacterial Meningitis: It’s Not the Same

If it’s viral meningitis? (more than 85% of cases) and if his condition allows, the child will go home with a simple prescription paracetamol and will heal in about a week. Unlike, if a bacterium is identified (about 500 cases per year), whether pneumococcal, meningococcal B or C, streptococci, or Haemophilus influenzae B, intravenous antibiotic therapy continues.

>> Signs to know: if you notice pink patches on your child’s skin that do not fade within seconds when you press on it with your finger, it could be purpura fulminans (a severe form of sepsis, often caused by meningococci), a distress signal that you should encourage you to call 15 immediately.

Once the child’s condition has improved, he goes home with a prescription for oral antibiotics, but then has to go back to the hospital for various examinations (hearing, neurological…). “For example, in 20% of meningococcal meningitis cases, the child has lifelong consequences: deafness, epilepsy, convulsions, amputations, motor and cognitive disabilities.” And in about 10% of cases, meningitis spreads through the body so quickly (sepsis) that antibiotics are not enough to catch it, the child does not survive.

Meningitis: the best prevention remains vaccination

“These serious consequences can be avoided”,the pediatrician remembers. You can be a carrier of these viruses and bacteria without knowing it and thus transmit them through saliva, droplets from sneezing or coughing. No one can predict who will be affected, even if contagion is promoted by promiscuity, the exchange of toys, glasses…

“The best prevention against bacterial meningitis remains vaccination” insists Dr. Bellaton. As evidence, vaccination against Haemophilus Influenzae B, mandatory since 2018, has significantly reduced the incidence of meningitis. Since then, the High Authority of Public Health has added injections against pneumococci (Prévenar®) and meningococcal C (Menjugate® and Neisvac®) to the list of mandatory vaccinations for children.

The Bexsero® vaccine, the first meningococcal B vaccine, has been recommended for all infants from the age of 2 months since June last year. Count 82 euros for each of the three injections, which are not covered by health insurance (except at risk children, for whom it is mandatory). “These meningococcal B meningitis are rare,admits that the pediatrician, but the consequences can be very serious, so I can only encourage parents to get their child vaccinated.”

Our expert : dr. Erianna Bellaton, pediatrician

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