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Learning About Bacterial Meningitis in Children

The brain, normal and with inflammation

What is bacterial meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis (say "meh-nun-JY-tus") is an infection of the tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms usually develop all of a sudden.

Bacterial meningitis can be serious. It can injure your child's brain and can cause death. Your child may need special care, such as being in the intensive care unit (ICU). This may worry you. But the hospital staff understands this. They will explain what happens and will answer your questions.

How is it treated?

Treatment takes place in the hospital. Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics to treat infection.
  • Medicines to treat other symptoms, such as fever and muscle aches, pressure on the brain, and seizures, if they occur.
  • Help with breathing. Your child may have a tube down the throat that is attached to a machine (ventilator).
  • Fluids or nutrition through a vein (IV).
  • Supportive care. Your child will be watched carefully to help prevent serious problems such as hearing loss, seizures, and brain damage.

What can you expect?

How long it takes your child to get better depends on how bad the illness is. It can take from just a couple of weeks to many months.

Your child may have changes in how your child thinks or concentrates. These symptoms get better over time in most children. But some children have lasting effects, such as learning disabilities.

Your child will need follow-up care. The doctor will check for long-term problems such as hearing loss. Your child may have tests to see how well your child is able to concentrate.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

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