Looking Ahead for Childhood Meningitis

Meningitis in childhood has poorer long term outlooks than average

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Not getting vaccines that protect against meningitis can leave a child vulnerable to catching the disease. But what is the long-term outlook for those who had meningitis as children?

A recent study found that adults who had meningitis as children had poorer personal outcomes as adults, compared to those who never had meningitis.

Those who had meningitis as children were less likely to complete high school and less likely to get a higher education beyond high school.

Childhood meningitis patients were also less likely to become financially self-sufficient. They were more likely to receive a disability pension as adults.

"Ask a pediatrician about a meningitis vaccination for your child."

The study, led by Casper Roed, MD, of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, looked at the long-term outcomes of adults who had bacterial meningitis as children.

Bacterial meningitis can be caused by several different bacteria. The disease affects a person's brain and spinal cord.

The researchers used the Danish national registries to identify 2,784 patients who had meningococcal, pneumococcal or Haemophilus influenzae meningitis as children between 1977 and 2007.

The Hib vaccine in the US protects against Haemophilus influenzae and is a recommended immunization on the childhood schedule published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Also on the CDC's recommended childhood immunization schedule are vaccines against different meningococcal and pneumococcal bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis.

The researchers compared these patients with childhood meningitis to an equal number of adults, matched by age and sex, who did not suffer meningitis as a child. The previous meningitis patients were also compared to their siblings.

The researchers looked at the highest level of education completed by adults in these groups, how long it took them to become financially self-sufficient and whether they received a disability pension.

At age 35, 11 percent fewer of the 1,338 adults who had meningococcal meningitis as children had completed high school compared to those who did not have any form of meningitis.

Also, 10.2 percent fewer of the 455 patients who had pneumococcal meningitis and 5.5 percent fewer of the 991 patents who had Hib meningitis had completed high school at age 35, compared to those who never had meningitis.

Similarly, 7.9 percent fewer of those who had meningococcal, 8.9 percent fewer of those who had pneumococcal and 6.5 percent fewer of those who had Hib meningitis had gotten a higher education beyond high school, compared to those who did not have meningitis in childhood.

The siblings of children who had meningococcal meningitis also did not achieve as high of an education, on average, as those who never had meningitis or had a sibling with meningitis.

However, the siblings of children who had pneumococcal or Hib meningitis did not achieve any lower educational level than individuals with no meningitis in their immediate family.

Overall, 3.8 percent fewer of the meningococcal patients, 10.6 percent fewer of the pneumococcal patients and 4.3 percent fewer of the Hib meningitis patients could financially support themselves without help as adults.

Also, a higher percentage of adults who had meningitis as children were receiving disability pensions compared to adults who never had meningitis.

Approximately 1.5 percent more of the adults who had meningococcal, 8.7 percent more of those who had pneumococcal and 3.7 percent more of those who had Hib meningitis were receiving disability pensions, compared to those who never had meningitis.

"In a Danish population, bacterial meningitis in childhood was associated with lower educational achievement and economic self-sufficiency in adult life," the researchers wrote. "This association may apply particularly to pneumococcal and H influenzae meningitis, whereas for meningococcal meningitis, the lower educational achievement may be family-related.

The study was published April 24 in JAMA. The research was funded by the Faculty of Health Sciences at Copenhagen University and the NOVO Nordisk Foundation. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 23, 2013
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013