The hallmark signs, in anyone over the age of two, are high fever, severe headache and stiff neck.
The severe headache leads to nausea and vomiting. Confusion and difficulty concentrating, sleepiness or difficulty waking up, seizures and sensitivity to light are associated with bacterial meningitis. In cases of meningococcal meningitis, a skin rash develops.
Newborns and infants with bacterial meningitis have a high fever, are irritable and cry constantly. They are sluggish and take formula or breastfeed poorly. The fontanelle or soft spot in the skull bulges. They can have seizures. You may notice stiffness in the baby’s body or neck.
There are vaccines against Hib, meningococcal and pneumococcal meningitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the Hib vaccine for all children under the age of five. It is usually given to children starting at two months of age.
There are two available vaccines that protect against meningococcal meningitis. The CDC recommends all 11 to 12 years old be vaccinated with meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4). These children should be given a boost dose at age 16.
For adolescents who received the initial dose at age 13 to 15, a one-time booster dose should be given at age 16 and 18. Adolescents who receive their first dose of MCV4 at or after age 16 do not need a booster dose. Many colleges and universities require incoming student to have record of receiving the meningococcal vaccine.
Currently, there are two types of pneumococcal vaccines. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) is given to infants as part of the routine childhood immunization schedule. One dose is given at two months, then at four months and again at six months. The last dose is given at 12 to 15 months of age.
The CDC recommends a single PCV13 dose for healthy children ages two to four who are unvaccinated or have not completed the vaccination series. There are specific recommendations for children with chronic medical conditions, such as sickle cell anemia. Parents are advised to consult their child’s pediatrician.