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Bacterial Meningitis in Children: Care Instructions


Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord. This serious infection can injure the brain. It can cause death.

Symptoms usually develop suddenly. A baby may be cranky, cry when moved, and arch their back. A young child may have a severe headache and refuse to eat. An older child will also have a stiff neck. Fever is common at all ages. Your child will be in the hospital for testing and treatment.

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. You may notice a change in how your child thinks or concentrates. Most children with these symptoms get better over time. Be patient. And follow your doctor's instructions.

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 advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) 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.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Give your child an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), for pain or fever. Do not use ibuprofen if your child is less than 6 months old unless the doctor gave you instructions to use it. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not give your child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest.
  • Be sure that anyone who has come into close contact with your child during this illness calls a doctor if they feel sick.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has a seizure.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child's symptoms return or get worse. These may include:
    • A fever.
    • A severe headache.
    • A stiff neck.
    • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Your child becomes confused or disoriented.
  • Your child has trouble thinking or concentrating.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.