Can Meningitis Cause Cerebral Palsy?

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

Meningitis is a severe condition that most often occurs as the result of a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection. This condition is often seen in preteens, teens, and young adults, but newborns and babies can also contract meningitis. When a baby has meningitis, they are at an increased risk of suffering from a permanent disability such as cerebral palsy.

What Is Meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis, the most common form of the disease, is caused by bacteria entering the bloodstream and traveling to the spinal fluid and brain. This bacteria causes inflammation to the membranes, or meninges, around the spinal cord and brain, leading to swelling of these areas. If left untreated, meningitis can quickly escalate and result in severe symptoms that can include permanent brain damage and even death.

The most common strains of bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis include:

  • Neisseria meningitidis, or meningococcus
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus
  • Haemophilus influenzae, or haemophilus
  • Listeria monocytogenes, or listeria
  • Group B streptococcus (GBS)

Can Meningitis Cause Cerebral Palsy?

The short answer is yes, newborn infections such as meningitis can cause an acquired brain injury such as cerebral palsy. Why? Children who have suffered from meningitis are more likely to experience permanent brain damage due to inflammation of the membranes around the spinal cord and brain. In fact, of those who survive this illness, twenty percent will experience a permanent disability such as hearing loss or brain damage.

Typically, an acquired brain injury such as CP occurs when meningitis is not diagnosed or treated properly, as soon as possible after the onset of the illness. Sepsis can also lead to meningitis. Sepsis is a dangerous and serious condition that occurs when an immune response in the bloodstream leads to dangerous levels of inflammation in the entire body, and without prompt treatment can lead to organ failure, damage to the tissues, and even death.

What are the Risk Factors of Meningitis?

There are a few risk factors that can increase the risk of a newborn or baby developing meningitis. These risk factors include:

  • Being born prematurely
  • Premature rupture of the membranes (PROM)
  • A maternal infection during pregnancy, such as intra-amniotic infections, herpes simplex virus (HSV), E. coli, or staph infections
  • Low birth weight
  • Maternal galactosemia

A baby who experiences any of these risk factors should be treated promptly and carefully to help prevent meningitis and, sometimes by extension, the development of cerebral palsy.

What are the Symptoms of Meningitis?

There are several symptoms and signs of meningitis. Being aware of these symptoms can help you quickly identify them in your child so they can get the help they need. Common symptoms of meningitis in newborns include:

  • High fever
  • Loud, hard, and constant crying
  • Irritability
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Sluggishness
  • Inactivity
  • Poor feeding or trouble feeding
  • Body and neck stiffness
  • Growth of a bulge in the baby’s soft spot (fontanel)

Symptoms of meningitis in children ages two and older include:

  • High fever that comes on suddenly
  • Confusion
  • Loss of thirst or appetite
  • Skin rash
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Difficulty waking up
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Sensitivity to light

If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, seek immediate medical treatment.

How Is Meningitis Diagnosed and Treated?

To diagnose meningitis in your child, your doctor will have to perform a spinal tap or otherwise obtain spinal fluid for testing. Once meningitis has been diagnosed, your child’s physician should begin treatment depending on what caused the condition.

Meningitis can be either bacterial or viral. Bacterial meningitis treatment typically includes intravenous antibiotics, corticosteroids, and the draining of infected mastoids or sinuses. Viral meningitis treatment often involves IV fluids, pain medication to reduce fever and relieve body aches, corticosteroids, and rest. The doctor will likely cater the treatment to your child’s specific symptoms, the cause of meningitis, and their individual needs. Constant monitoring will be necessary until your child fully recovers from this condition.

Was Your Child’s Condition a Result of Medical Negligence?

If the difficulties resulting from your child’s birth could have been prevented or mitigated by competent medical care, you may have a valid claim for medical malpractice against the practitioner and hospital. Consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss your legal rights and options.

Janet, Janet & Suggs has over 40 years of experience with medical malpractice cases. We have a nationally-recognized track record of successful verdicts that demonstrate our commitment to working for justice and fair compensation. Our aim is to achieve justice and compensation for victims of birth injury medical malpractice, and there are no fees unless your case is won. Contact us for a free consultation to discuss your case and determine your next steps.



Reviewed by:
Trish Fletcher, MS, BSN, CRNP, NNP-BC, ALNC
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner | Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant

Tricia is a dedicated, focused, Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner with more than 25 years of experience. Her strong clinical and critical thinking skills, paired with expertise caring for neonates in a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), ensures meticulous medical records review. READ FULL BIO

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