Meningitis is inflammation of the meninges, which are protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It may be caused by bacteria, viruses or, less commonly, other microorganisms. It is a serious illness with consequences including long-term disability and death.
Diagnosis may be difficult as classic signs and symptoms are often absent in children and may be difficult to distinguish from those of less serious illnesses. Early intervention is associated with a better outcome and health professionals working in the community play a vital role in early recognition of the disease followed by urgent referral of patients to secondary care.1
This article discusses challenges nurses face recognising a child with meningitis, illustrated by a case of meningitis in a young infant (page 38). It highlights the role of community nurses in preventing meningitis through vaccination and in supporting children and families post discharge from hospital.
The main bacteria responsible for meningitis are Neisseria meningitidis (also called meningococcus), Streptococcus pneumoniae (or pneumococcus), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), group B Streptococci, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Escheria coli and Listeria monocytogenes.2