Kids who have had bacterial meningitis are less likely to
finish high school and to be economically self-sufficient as adults, a new
The findings are consistent with past research showing that
meningitis - inflammation around the brain and spinal cord - increases
long-term risks of mental retardation and other disabilities stemming from
brain tissue damage.
But the results are unique in that researchers were able to
track patients' educational and economic achievements into adulthood, according
to Dr Casper Roed, the study's lead author from Copenhagen University Hospital
in Denmark. "We save almost all of (these kids) in the Western world, and
that's wonderful news, but what we can see are long-term effects," he said.
Researchers used the national
Roed and his colleagues followed 2 800 Danish youths who
were diagnosed with meningococcal, pneumococcal or Haemophilus influenzae
meningitis in 1977 through 2007. They used national education and economic data
to compare each of those children to another four of the same age and gender,
who did not have meningitis.
The researchers found
that by age 35, between 41 and 48% of people who'd had meningitis as children
had completed high school, compared to 52 to 53% of the comparison group.
Similarly, 84 to 91% of meningitis survivors were economically self-sufficient
as adults, versus 94 to 95% of those who hadn't had the disease, the study team
reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Roed said those differences appeared to be due to lasting
effects of the meningitis, itself, at least in cases of pneumococcal and H.
influenzae disease. However, the siblings and parents of children who'd had
meningococcal meningitis were also more likely to fall short educationally, the
study team determined. So for those childhood survivors, education and economic
troubles could be explained by meningococcal meningitis being more common in
Extra support to
According to Roed, the findings show the need to provide
extra support to kids who are having difficulty in school after a bout of
meningitis. But it's also possible to keep young people from getting bacterial
meningitis in the first place, researchers noted."The good news is, these
are all vaccine-preventable," said Dr Lee Harrison, an infectious diseases
researcher at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania who wasn't involved
in the new study.
Vaccines against pneumococcus and H. influenzae are
recommended starting at two months of age in the United States, he noted, and
the meningococcal shot is on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's
adolescent vaccine schedule.
"Several states have experienced H. flu meningitis
cases that resulted in deaths because of parents that didn't want to
vaccinate" - typically because of unsupported health concerns, Harrison
told Reuters Health."If there's any message I could give, it's that these
vaccines are exceeding safe and they're highly effective and the consequences
of the disease are devastating."