Childhood bacterial meningitis influences educational, financial achievement

By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter

Research suggests that children who become infected with bacterial meningitis have a lower educational achievement and are less likely to be economically self-sufficient in adulthood than those who do not.

Bacterial meningitis in childhood can lead to serious health consequences for survivors including "brain damage due to inflammation, infarction, or seizures causing neuronal necrosis, and… hearing loss, seizure disorders, motor deficits, and cognitive impairment," explain Casper Roed (Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark) and colleagues.

Writing in JAMA, Roed and team report the results of a follow-up study on 2784 Danish individuals who had a diagnosis of meningococcal, pneumococcal, or Haemophilus influenzae meningitis between 1977-2007 at an age of 12 years or below. A comparison cohort (controls) matched for age and gender with the meningitis cohort were also included (n=11,136).

At 35 years, 11.0%, 10.2%, and 5.5% fewer people who had meningococcal, pneumococcal, or H. influenzae as a child had completed high school compared with controls. Similarly, 7.9%, 8.9%, and 6.5% fewer individuals in the corresponding groups had obtained a higher education compared with controls.

Notably, siblings of meningococcal, but not pneumococcal, or H. influenza meningitis patients also had lower educational achievements than controls, suggesting that "for meningococcal meningitis the lower educational achievement may be family-related."

At the end of follow up (death, age 35 years, or 1 October 2010), 3.8%, 10.6%, and 4.3% fewer meningococcal, pneumococcal, and H. influenzae meningitis patients were economically self-sufficient, defined as having income for a whole year stemming from business profit or employment for the first time, than controls. In addition, 1.5%, 8.7%, and 3.7% more people in the respective groups were receiving a disability pension than those in the control group.

"Our study suggests that children diagnosed as having pneumococcal or H influenzae meningitis may benefit from follow-up into adulthood to identify those who could potentially benefit from psychosocial support," conclude the authors.

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