Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, which is the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It is most often caused by an infection — bacterial, viral or fungal.
The Paediatric Association of Jamaica recommends that all children five years and younger should have the HiB vaccine which protects against developing certain causes of meningitis. The symptoms of meningitis include a sudden fever, headache and stiff neck. It may also be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and confusion.
Parents should note that in younger children, it may be harder to spot the classic meningitis symptoms of fever, headache and neck stiffness. But the baby may appear irritable, be vomiting and seem listless.
Bacterial meningitis is rare but life threatening if not treated quickly. Viral meningitis is more common and less serious, and symptoms resemble the common cold.
Meningitis can be caused by many of the common bacteria and viruses around, but in its case, the virus is spread by the bloodstream to the meninges through spinal fluid. In some cases, illnesses like a serious ear infection or sinus infection can bring it on.
Immunisation can go a long way toward preventing meningitis.
Parents should get to a hospital immediately if they suspect their child has meningitis or has symptoms such as vomiting, headache, lethargy or confusion, neck stiffness, rash and fever.