Research shows that despite the formulation of advanced vaccines and development of critical tools for fast identification of disease-causing organisms, neonatal meningitis still poses a great threat to neonatal health throughout the world. At least partially, the prevalence of neonatal meningitis is attributed to the increase in the number of infants that survive premature delivery.
One particular challenge the medical field is facing is a lack of specific clinical tools, which makes the condition much more difficult to diagnose in neonates than in older children or adults. The delicate and immature immune systems of infants combined with exposure to infection worsens the situation even farther.
The condition is caused by group B streptococcus, Escherichia coli (E.coli), or in some rare cases Listeria monocytogenes. These bacteria are often carried by the mother and passed on to the baby during birth or shortly after birth through food contamination or open sores on the infant. Research revealed that about 40% of women carry group B streptococcus in the lower intestines, the anus and the vagina without being aware of it. For this reason, it is important that pregnant women get tested between week 35 and 37 of gestation to ensure they are safe and free from the bacteria by the time they go into delivery.
Surveys show that the condition occurs in 2 out of every 10,000 full-term births, and in 2 out of 1000 low birth weight infants, with male babies being at a bit higher risk. Statistically, it also occurs in 15% of infants with sepsis. In developed countries, the mortality rate of neonatal meningitis ranges from 10 to 15% while in developing countries it stands at horrifying 40-58%. The big difference is attributed to the state of healthcare systems that allow for diagnosis, treatment, prevention and care of meningitis patients.
Medical experts categorize neonatal meningitis into two forms: early-onset meningitis and late-onset meningitis. The former occurs within 72 hours of birth and often passed on from the mother. The latter happens at least 72 hours after birth and often comes as a result of poor hygiene provided by the caregiver or hospital staff.
The symptoms of meningitis in infants are not always obvious and may be easily mistaken for other conditions. However, when your baby becomes fussy and refuses to feed, is having diarrhea and/or trouble breathing, it is important to quickly consult with the doctor to rule out the possibility of neonatal meningitis.