Newborn babies are at a much higher risk of developing meningitis than any other age group, as their immune system is weaker and more susceptible to viruses and illnesses. Since the bacteria that causes meningitis can be transferred from mother to baby, prenatal care and virus screening for the disease is extremely important.
What is Infant Meningitis?
Meningitis happens when a viral or bacterial infection spreads to the spinal fluid and the brain fluid.
Neisseria meningitidis and Streptococcus pneumoniae are forms of bacterial meningitis, and are considered much more dangerous than viral meningitis.
Whereas viral meningitis can typically resolve on its own without treatment, bacterial meningitis is a serious illness that can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, and even death. Although it was more prior to the 1990s, Haemophilus influenzae type b is another cause of bacterial meningitis.
How Are Infants Exposed to Bacteria?
Physicians should test pregnant women for the various forms of bacteria, not only to help treat the mother, but to also ensure that infant isn’t at risk. An exposed mother can equal an infected infant.
It’s especially important that doctors test the mother between week 35-37 of pregnancy because that is when the doctor will know for sure whether the mother has Group B Strep, something that is passed to the child merely by progressing through the birth canal.
Other ways of exposure include coming into contact with anyone who carries the virus, such as kissing someone who is infected. Casual contact, such as holding an infant, doesn’t usually result in exposure.
What are the Symptoms of the Mother Having Group B Strep?
Most mothers do not know that they have Group B Strep. In fact, doctors say that 40% of women carry Group B Strep in the lower intestines, anus, and vagina without even knowing it –there are no symptoms that indicate that the mother has the bacteria in her system.
By testing anywhere between weeks 35 and 37 of pregnancy, the doctor should be able to identify whether the mother has Group B Strep and to be able to put her on safe and pregnancy-friendly antibiotics in enough time that the bacteria may be gone in time for delivery.
What are the Symptoms of Meningitis in the Baby?
Symptoms include neck stiffness, headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, confusion, sleepiness, and poor feeding habits. With newborns, many of the symptoms may be difficult to determine, such as headaches and nausea.
How is Infant Meningitis Treated?
As mentioned earlier, infant meningitis is a very severe condition, and if you catch any of these signs in your baby, medical treatment is imperative. Treatment generally consists of antibiotics. Currently, there is no effective vaccine against type B meningitis, but if antibiotics are started as soon as possible, the baby will usually recover.
If, however, the meningitis isn’t treated immediately, the bacteria can affect the brain causing potential brain damage and death. In brain damage occurs, the infant may develop cerebral palsy, a paralysis in the areas of the brain that communicate muscle movement to the rest of the body.