Baby Spinal Disease – Meningitis

Diagnosing and treating back and spinal problems in children and adults has become much more accurate and effective due to the advanced technology and intensive research that has taken place over the last few decades.  However, diagnosis is still quite difficult in the case of infants because so many symptoms are very similar in both common, minor ailments and relatively uncommon, life-threatening diseases.

One example of such a dilemma is spinal meningitis, which is an inflammation of the meninges or membrane that covers the spinal cord and the brain.  It is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection, though there are rare cases that result from a fungus or an abnormal reaction to a specific drug.  The most common cause is a virus, and this type of meningitis is usually not directly contagious and in an otherwise healthy infant will resolve itself within a week or two.

Bacterial meningitis is much more serious.  The symptoms appear suddenly and with severity, and if not treated with antibiotics right away the disease can kill within days.  However, both types exhibit many of the same symptoms.  With viral infections they may be mistaken for a cold or an ear or respiratory infection and never diagnosed at all.

Symptoms of both forms may include lethargy, fever, vomiting and/or refusal to eat; older children and adults will complain of stiff neck and headache, but infants can’t make those differentiations, so making a diagnosis is more difficult.  Some of the most telling symptoms are rigidity in posture, especially in the neck, difficulty in sucking and swallowing, an unusually high-pitched cry and bulging in the soft spots on a baby’s head.

At present there are several vaccines that are effective in reducing the risk of meningitis.  Parents should discuss the options with their pediatrician and be informed about potential risks.  They should also seek medical help immediately if any or a combination of these symptoms are present.