Meningitis is a term used to describe an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain or the spinal cord. Meningitis is a potentially life-threatening condition that can rapidly progress to permanent brain damage, neurologic problems, and even death. Doctors need to treat meningitis to decide the exact cause of the problem and to prevent or reduce any long-term effects.
Symptoms of Meningitis
The symptoms of meningitis vary and depend both on the age of the autism child and on the cause of the infection. Because the flu-like symptoms can be similar in both types of meningitis, particularly in the early stages, and bacterial meningitis can be very serious, it's important to quickly diagnose an infection.
The first symptoms of bacterial or viral meningitis can come on quickly or surface several days after a autism child has had a cold and runny nose, diarrhea and vomiting, or other signs of an infection. Common symptoms include:
Infants with meningitis may not have those symptoms, and might simply be extremely irritable, lethargic, or have a fever. They may be difficult to comfort, even when they are picked up and rocked.
Other symptoms of meningitis in infants can include:
Viral meningitis tends to cause flu-like symptoms, such as fever and runny nose, and may be so mild that the illness goes undiagnosed. Most cases of viral meningitis resolve completely within 7 to 10 days, without any complications or need for treatment.
Meningitis in Children Causes
Meningitis normally occurs as a complication from an infection in the bloodstream. A barrier (called the blood-brain barrier) normally protects the brain from contamination by the blood. Sometimes, infections directly decrease the protective ability of the blood-brain barrier. Other times, infections release substances that decrease this protective ability.
Once the blood-brain barrier becomes leaky, a chain of reactions can occur. Infectious organisms can invade the fluid surrounding the brain. The body tries to fight the infection by increasing the number of white blood cells (normally a helpful immune system response), but this can lead to increased inflammation. As the inflammation increases, brain tissue can start swelling and blood flow to vital areas of the brain can decrease.
Meningitis can also be caused by the direct spread of a nearby severe infection, such as an ear infection (otitis media) or a nasal sinus infection (sinusitis). An infection can also occur any time following direct trauma to the head or after any type of head surgery.
* Bacterial meningitis can be caused by many different types of bacteria. Certain age groups are predisposed to infections of specific types of bacteria.
* Viral meningitis is much less serious than bacterial meningitis and frequently remains undiagnosed because its symptoms are similar to the common flu. The frequency of viral meningitis increases slightly in the summer months because of greater exposure to the most common viral agents, called enteroviruses.