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Paediatric meningitis: Clinical features and diagnosis

Fever, headache, photophobia and neck stiffness — these are the classicsymptoms of meningitis. But in children, young ones particularly, signscan be variable and non-specific, or may well be absent

By Paul Baines, MD, FRCA, Nicola Reilly, BSc, MRPharmS, and Andrea Gill, MSc, MRPharmS

Paediatric meningitis (Aguru  iStockphoto)Fever, headache, photophobia and neck stiffness — these are the classic symptoms of meningitis. But in children, young ones particularly, signs can be variable and non-specific, or may well be absent

 

Summary

Meningitis, inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges), can be caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi. In children in the UK, bacterial meningitis is most often caused by either Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis or Haemophilus influenzae.

The classic symptoms of meningitis are fever, headache, photophobia and neck stiffness. However, these symptoms can be variable or absent in young children, making meningitis difficult to diagnose.

Early diagnosis and prompt initiation of treatment is essential to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with meningitis.

Microbiological testing of a cerebrospinal fluid sample, obtained by lumbar puncture, is the gold standard to diagnose meningitis.

Paul Baines is a consultant in paediatric intensive care, Nicola Reilly is lead clinical pharmacist for critical care and Andrea Gill is clinical pharmacy services manager, all at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool.

Email: andrea.gill@alderhey.nhs.uk

Citation: Clinical Pharmacist URI: 10971150

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