KC Parent magazine (March 2011 issue)
3/1/2011 12:00:00 AM
Why can one type of meningitis be treated with antibiotics and not the other? And why are there so many organisms which can cause this one disease? Meningitis facts can strain the brain, but the plain answer is: meningitis is any inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes.
Bacterial vs. viral meningitis Dr. Jennifer Andrews, a pediatrician at Shawnee Mission Pediatrics, says the big difference is, “Bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics and viral meningitis cannot.” She warns, “Both forms of meningitis can be serious.”
Who’s most at risk? “The two most common causes of bacterial meningitis in children are Streptococcus pneumoniae (Pneumococcal) and Neisseria meningitidis (Meningococcal),” says Dr. Andrews. Haemophilus influenza (Hib) used to be widespread, but now with the current immunization schedule, the numbers have dropped dramatically. “Pneumococcal meningitis,” reports Dr. Andrews, “is most common in infants, young children and individuals with immune deficiency. Meningococcal is most common in adolescents and young adults.”
Common symptoms The American Academy of Pediatrics says meningitis quickly progresses, so notify a pediatrician promptly if warning signs are present:
Under 2 years:
- Decreased appetite
- Extreme crankiness
2 to 5 years old: above symptoms, plus
- Complaint of headache
- Pain in back
- Stiff neck
- Aversion to bright lights
Treatment for bacterial meningitis
Diagnosis is made by doing a procedure called a lumbar puncture (spinal tap), according to Dr. Andrews. Antibiotics are prescribed for bacterial meningitis, and they are typically given through an IV in the beginning of treatment. Those who receive immediate treatment recover well.
Viral meningitis is less serious but can remain undiagnosed because it is often misdiagnosed as influenza.
Prevention is Key “The most important thing parents can do to prevent meningitis is to take their children in for their immunizations,” Dr. Andrews says. “There has been a substantial decrease of bacterial meningitis with the current immunization schedule.”
Dr. Laurie Hornberger, a Kansas City, MO, pediatrician specializing in adolescent health, says, “High school and college-aged kids are at the highest risk for meningococcal disease.” Since they live in close quarters, share food, drinks and utensils, the disease can be passed on easily.
Teens should definitely get vaccinated before entering college, but “the current recommendation for the meningococcal vaccine is 11 years,” says Dr. Hornberger. “There are, however, new studies that say a booster may be needed at 16 to cover them throughout college years.”
Stacey Hatton is a pediatric registered nurse and advocate for childhood immunizations.