Meningitis Symptoms in Babies and Young Children

Even with new technology and immunizations, meningitis is on the rise. Just in the UK alone there is an estimated 1,870 cases if meningitis B each year. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) between the years of 2003-2007, 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis occurred, and of those cases 500 individuals died. Meningitis affects not only adults and children, but babies as well. Yes, this deathly infection is affecting babies across the world, and with similar symptoms as the flu, it can often be mistaken for another illness and unfortunately go untreated.


Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, which are the three membranes that line the skull and vertebral canal that surround the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can be either a viral or bacterial infection. While both can be very serious, bacterial meningitis is categorized as the deathly and can be very hard to treat. The most common strain of bacteria that causes meningitis in infants and young children in the U.S. is called Streptococcus pneumoniae or pneumococcus. This strain is what normally causes ear infections and pneumonia. A few other strains that can such as Neisseria meningitidis, Haemophilus inflenzae, and Listeria monocytogenes have been known to be linked to meningitis as well.

When children are diagnosed with meningitis they often have the following symptoms: high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, vomiting, confusion, sleepiness, rash, and sensitivity to light. While these signs are easy to mistake for the flu, it can be easier to diagnose when your child can verbally discuss their symptoms with you. With a baby, you may have a harder time figuring out what is wrong, especially since meningitis symptoms for a baby can be a little different. Meningitis indicators for an infant include fever, crying, sleepiness, loss of appetite, stiffness in the neck, and maybe no signs at all. Some symptoms to look out for are cold hands and feet, vomiting, the dislike of being handled, unresponsive and drowsy, pale and blotchy skin, bulging of the soft spot, and convulsions.

Meningitis symptoms can occur in any order and might seem like they came out of nowhere. It’s important to know how to protect your baby from this infection and where to go if you need help. Today it’s important to get your child vaccinated to protect them from dangerous diseases and infections like meningitis. For babies and teens there is the meningococcal vaccine. This vaccine is given in a series of shots and can be offered at any time during a child’s life, but it is recommended to be given as soon as possible, especially to those high at risk for meningitis. Teens should be vaccinated between the ages of 13-18.


There are very serious risk factors for those who are diagnosed with meningitis and go untreated. While viral meningitis can be treated, bacterial meningitis is serious and can lead to death. It’s important to discuss meningitis symptoms with your doctor so you are aware if your baby begins to show similar signs.