Confirming what physicians have long speculated, a new study published in the April edition of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery determines that the presence of cochlear implants increases the risk of bacterial infections that can cause meningitis in recipients.
The discovery increases the need to educate the public on the need for meningitis vaccinations in potential cochlear implant recipients.
The study involved making cochleostomy incisions (opening of the inner ear spaces of the cochlea—the most important moment in the procedure) in the ears of 54 healthy rats, implanting cochlear devices in 36 of them, and then monitoring them for the presence of meningitis, a third of the rats with cochlear implants were stricken with meningitis. The study's authors found that in these cases, cochlear implantation lowers the threshold needed for pneumococcal baterial infection, the bacterium that causes meningitis.
The study's authors stress that it remains their belief that the benefits of cochlear implants far exceed the risk of meningitis, which can be managed by education and vaccination efforts.
Worldwide, 90 of the 60,000 people receiving cochlear implant have been stricken with meningitis, drawing deep concern within the international medical community. Previous research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that children who receive cochlear implants to counter hearing loss are more likely to develop meningitis.