Meningitis In Babies: Signs And Symptoms

September 14, 2023

Meningitis In Babies

Meningitis is the term used to describe an infection that commonly affects babies. If you are concerned that your baby has contracted this infection – or wish to be more prepared for the future, this blog by Childhealthy addresses everything you need to know about meningitis in babies.

A smiling baby lying on a rug with their cuddly toy

What Is Meningitis?

Meningitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the membrane or ‘meninges’ that surround the brain and spinal cord. These protected membranes can become infected by bacteria and viruses, commonly known as meningitis. If the infection is not treated as soon as possible, it can develop into a more severe medical condition. 

Babies under the age of one are at a higher risk of contracting the infection. Viruses, fungus and other bacteria can infect a part of their body. The infection then travels through the bloodstream and can spread to the spinal fluid within the brain and spinal cord.

Types of Meningitis

There are three leading types of meningitis in babies. These are – bacteria, fungus and viruses. Although viral is deemed the most common, you must take time to understand how each differs. Let’s discuss each in more detail.

Bacterial: Bacterial meningitis can affect babies during different stages of their life. Bacteria like Group B Streptococcus commonly cause bacterial meningitis during the first 28 days of life, while bacteria like Neisseria Meningitidis (Meningococcus) are more common in babies over one month old.

Fungal: This type of meningitis is the rarest in babies. This is because it only affects babies with a weakened immune system.

Viral: This form of meningitis is commonly caused by viruses such as influenza, measles and mumps virus and non-polio enteroviruses. This type of meningitis can often be easily treated. But be aware that there are some cases where viruses can cause severe meningitis, such as varicella which is commonly known as chickenpox.

For more information about varicella, please read our article on chickenpox in babies.

Symptoms of Meningitis in Babies

Take time to understand the symptoms associated with meningitis. Be aware that they can appear quickly so it’s important to identify and understand the signs as soon as they occur:

  • Sudden high temperature
  • Vomiting
  • Increased irritability
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Less active/energetic than usual
  • Rashes, marks or bruises anywhere on the body (associated with septicaemia/blood poisoning)
  • Sleepy and difficult to wake
  • Bulging of the fontanelle (The soft spot on your baby’s head)

If you notice any of these symptoms and you are concerned, you must seek urgent medical assessment. . Identifying the symptoms of meningitis early can decrease the chance of your baby having associated complications.

Meningitis and Septicaemia Rash in Babies

The bacteria that cause meningitis can also cause blood poisoning, known as septicaemia. Septicaemia can lead to a rash that is the result of bleeding under the skin. o identify it, you should look for the following signs:

  • Purple marks that look like a bruise
  • Tiny pinprick marks on the skin that are either pink, red, brown or purple
  • Blotchy areas of skin
  • Pale areas of skin

It is important to note that a rash is not always a symptom of meningitis, but it can be. So, if you notice a rash has occurred on your baby’s skin, alwayss seek medical advice.

Close Up Image Of Meningitis Rash











What Causes Meningitis in Babies?

As previously discussed, meningitis can be caused by bacteria, fungus and viruses. The cause will depend on the type of meningitis your baby has contracted. For example, viral meningitis can be caused by a common virus such as chickenpox, while bacterial meningitis can be passed on from mother to baby during birth or in older infants via the respiratory route.

The most common causes of meningitis are viruses in newborn babies:

  • Group B streptococcus
  • E.coli
  • Meningococcal bacteria

Seek medical treatment if you are concerned that your baby has come into contact with the infection. The quicker you can work to treat it, the better.

Is Meningitis Contagious?

As there are several different types of meningitis, whether they are contagious or not depends on the type that your baby contracts. For example, fungal meningitis is not contagious. It is one of the rarest forms of meningitis caused by a fungus known as Cryptococcus.

Bacterial meningitis, on the other hand, can be contagious. Both causes of bacterial meningitis (Neisseria meningitidis and Streptococcus pneumoniae) can be spread through saliva and mucus by coughing and sneezing.

Like bacterial, infections that cause viral meningitis like enteroviruses can be spread through coughing, sneezing and direct contact with mucus or saliva. However, it is essential to note that catching this virus will not always result in someone developing meningitis.

Meningitis Treatment for Babies

The treatment your baby will require for meningitis depends on the type that they have. Some cases of viral may require no treatment at all. To ensure your child’s safety, you should always take them to a doctor for a diagnosis and possible treatment. Be aware that some symptoms related to meningitis can be linked to other medical conditions.

Bacterial meningitis will be treated with antibiotics. Your baby will likely have to stay in the hospital during the treatment. Viral meningitis can get better within 10 days. If so, treatment is unlikely to be required. Severe cases will require your baby to be treated in the hospital with intravenous (IV) antiviral medication.

Meningitis Vaccine

As meningitis can be caused by different infections, several vaccinations are offered to help protect your baby. Take a look at the vaccine schedule on our website. Please note that all highlighted vaccines are not routinely offered to all children on the UK vaccination schedule. 

The Meningitis C vaccine is not included in the UK schedule at 12 weeks since July 2016 due to the success of the immunisation programme in the UK. This resulted in lower rates of Meningococcal type C illnesses. To protect younger infants, the vaccine is still recommended, with a further dose to be given at one year of age. 

For more information about vaccinations, please read our article on why vaccines are important for children.

Book An Appointment At Childhealthy

At Childhealthy, we can help you arrange your baby’s vaccination schedule. Our specialists have a wide range of experience and can help put your mind at ease regarding the vaccination process. We have a holistic approach to looking after your child. Please get in touch via the contact us section of our website.





Disclaimer: Information contained in this article is intended as general advice and does not replace a medical assessment. If you are concerned about your child please contact your doctor for advice.


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