Early Warning Signs of Meningitis in Children

Early Warning Signs of Meningitis in Children


Meningitis in Children

It’s not easy to spot the symptoms of meningitis. People often confuse the early signs and symptoms of meningitis with the flu. In fact, meningitis may come on the heels of a flu-like illness or infection. That’s why it’s important to stay alert, learn the hallmark signs and symptoms of meningitis, and act quickly. It may help save a life.

Common Signs of Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis symptoms may develop within hours or days. Viral meningitis symptoms may also develop quickly or over several days.

Here are more common signs and symptoms of both types. Not all symptoms may appear or appear in the same order. Fever, headache, and neck stiffness are the hallmark symptoms of meningitis.

  • Fever
  • Severe, persistent headache
  • Neck stiffness and pain that makes it difficult to touch your chin to your chest
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion and disorientation (acting “goofy”)
  • Drowsiness or sluggishness
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Poor appetite
  • More severe symptoms include seizure and coma

Early Warning Signs of Meningitis in Children

In infants, symptoms may include fever, irritability, poor feeding, and lethargy.

Signs of Meningitis in Children

In infants, the signs and symptoms of meningitis are not always obvious due to the infant’s inability to communicate symptoms. Therefore, caregivers (parents, relatives, guardians) must pay very close attention to the infant’s overall condition. The following is a list of possible symptoms seen in infants or children with bacterial meningitis (bacterial meningitis at any age is considered a medical emergency):

  • Classic or common symptoms of meningitis in infants younger than 3 months of age may include some of the following:
    • Decreased liquid intake/poor feeding
    • Vomiting
    • Lethargy
    • Rash
    • Stiff neck
    • Increased irritability
    • Increased lethargy
    • Fever
    • Bulging fontanelle (soft spot on the top of the head)
    • Seizure activity
    • Hypothermia (low temperature)
    • Shock
    • Hypotonia (floppiness)
    • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
    • Jaundice (yellowing of skin)
  • Classic symptoms in children older than 1 year of age are as follows:
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Headache
    • Increased sensitivity to light
    • Fever
    • Altered mental status (seems confused or odd)
    • Lethargy
    • Seizure activity
    • Coma
    • Neck stiffness or neck pain
    • Knees automatically brought up toward the body when the neck is bent forward or pain in the legs when bent (called Brudzinski sign)
    • Inability to straighten the lower legs after the hips have already been flexed 90 degrees (called Kernig sign)
    • Rash

Symptoms of viral meningitis most commonly resemble those of the flu (fever, muscle aches, cough, headache but some may have one or more of the symptoms listed above for bacterial meningitis), but the symptoms are usually considerably milder.

Meningitis Symptoms

Urgent action is needed in the event of meningitis symptoms as this condition can be a life-threatening medical emergency.

It’s easy to mistake the early signs and symptoms of meningitis for the flu (influenza). Meningitis signs and symptoms may develop over several hours or over one or two days.

The signs and symptoms that may occur in anyone older than 2 year old:

  • Sudden high fever
  • Severe headache that isn’t easily confused with other types of headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Vomiting or nausea with headache
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Seizures
  • Sleepiness or difficulty waking up
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Lack of interest in drinking and eating
  • Skin rash in some cases, such as in meningococcal meningitis

Early Warning Signs of Meningitis in Children

Other signs in babies:

  • Tense or bulging soft spot on their head
  • Refusing to feed
  • Irritable when picked up, with a high pitched or moaning cry
  • A stiff body with jerky movements, or else floppy and lifeless
  • Fever is often absent in babies less than three months of age

Septicaemia can occur with or without meningitis. Not everyone gets all the symptoms and they can appear in any order.