What is Neonatal Meningitis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2018
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Neonatal meningitis is a form of meningitis which affects someone in the first few months of life, a time in the lifespan known as the neonatal period. Infants are at risk of infections in general because their immune systems are not fully developed, and even with immunities received through breastmilk in breastfeeding infants, infections are always a risk. Meningitis, an infection of the meninges, the layers of material which surround the brain, can be very serious in infants and may be deadly if it is not treated.

Patients with neonatal meningitis have an infection of the meninges which may be caused by bacteria or viruses. In older people, there is a classic trio of symptoms associated with meningitis which can be used to identify the disease: Headache, high fever, and stiff neck. In infants these symptoms can be absent or hard to detect, which makes it difficult to realize that a patient has meningitis until the infection has progressed. This makes neonatal meningitis especially dangerous because it may be diagnosed after the patient has developed severe complications.


Symptoms of neonatal meningitis can include slow movements, vomiting, listlessness, and difficulty feeding. As the infection progresses, the infant will start to have seizures. At this point the patient can be at risk of complications such as brain damage which can lead to hearing loss and learning disabilities. It is necessary to perform a lumber puncture to obtain a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for analysis to confirm a diagnosis of neonatal meningitis.

Once diagnosed, tests can be performed to find out which organism is responsible for the infection so that appropriate antiviral or antibacterial drugs can be prescribed for the infant. In addition, steroids will be used to reduce inflammation. Another important aspect of treatment is fluid management to prevent buildups of fluid which can lead to complications, as well as monitoring of the infant's blood pressure.

If neonatal meningitis is identified early and treated rapidly, it may resolve with no further complications. However, there are significant barriers to treatment including late diagnosis and lack of access to diagnostic tools in many developing regions of the world. While the overall incidence of neonatal meningitis is low, about one to two in every 1,000 births, the nation in which an infant is located is a major determining factor in whether or not the infant will recover and what kinds of complications will be experienced.



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Post 4

It's sad when a baby is suffering, but parents can't figure out what is wrong. It seems like neonatal meningitis may be mild at first, then the symptoms may get much worse. I guess the thing to do is always watch a baby for anything that seems out of the ordinary and take him into the doctor.

If diagnosed early, the baby can avoid having any long-terms effects. And the treatment is fairly simple and effective, if an early meningitis diagnosis is made.

Post 3

Apparently, meningitis virus or bacteria is always present in many women's vaginas. So does the infant contract it as it descends down the birth canal? Do these babies who get it have a lower immune system? Anyone know the answers to these questions?

It's a good thing women about to deliver can be tested for this condition so they can be given an antibiotic to hopefully prevent the baby from getting meningitis.

Post 2

@MissDaphne - What you have to realize is that the root "itis" just means inflammation, and it is a symptom, not a disease. Hepatitis, arthritis, meningitis, these are all *symptoms* that can have a lot of different causes.

So neonatal meningitis is not caused by the same microorganisms that cause the kind college students can get, and there are other kinds young kids can get. (The HiB and PC vaccines are important for preventing these.)

If you've ever had a baby, then late in your pregnancy you were probably tested for group B strep, or sometimes they just call it GBS. This is a kind of bacteria that a big fraction of pregnant women carry in their vaginas, and

it is not usually harmful. In rare cases, however, it can cause infection in the newborn, and so women carrying this bacteria are usually treated with antibiotics during labor.

If for some reason a woman is not treated, or the treatment is ineffective, neonatal bacterial meningitis is one possible complication. Babies can also get meningitis from E. coli or from listeria, both of which also come from the mother.

Post 1

How would a newborn baby even *get* meningitis? Isn't it a contagious disease?

What I think of with meningitis is those outbreaks in college dorms you used to hear of from time to time, before the vaccine came on the market. I guess that stopped them. But babies don't live in dorms, so how would a newborn come by it? No wonder it's so hard to make a meningitis diagnosis in a baby.

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