A new study by researchers in the UK confirms that a bout with meningitis early in life can cause serious social and behavior problems in later years.
Susan Halket and colleagues surveyed the parents and teachers of 739 children who survived episodes of infantile meningitis in England and Wales during the late 1980s, comparing them to 606 matched controls. The researchers report that:
Halket et al. found that the elevated risk of behavioral problems was the same for children who suffered from meningitis during the first month after birth as it was for those who contracted meningitis later in infancy.
The findings are in line with a study in 2002 that focused on South African children who had recovered from meningitis stemming from infection with tuberculosis. In that study, involving 21 meningitis survivors and 21 controls, J. W. Wait and colleagues found that "All 21 tuberculous meningitis (TBM) group subjects displayed symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder." In addition, the TBM group were rated as more aggressive, obsessive, compulsive, and unpopular than the other subjects.
Meningitis, which can occur as a result of either viral or bacterial infection, is an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. While bacterial meningitis tends to be far more severe than viral meningitis, either form of the disease can result in cognitive and behavioral changes.
Commenting on the Halket et al. study, Linda Glennie, head of research and medical information for the Meningitis Research Trust in the U.K., said, "Many people who have had meningitis and septicemia [blood poisoning, a fairly common complication of meningitis] experience problems with concentration and memory. These are the types of things that get them labeled as 'children with problems.'"
"Long term follow up after meningitis in infancy: behaviour of teenagers," S. Halket, J. de Louvois, D. E. Holt, and D. Harvey, Archives of Disease in Childhood, Vol. 88, No. 5, May 2003, 395-8. Address: Susan Halket, Department of Paediatrics, Imperial College School of Medicine, Hammersmith Hospital, London, UK.
"Meningitis link to bad behaviour," BBC News, April 23, 2003.
"Tuberculosis meningitis and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children," J. W. Wait, L. Stanton, and J. F. Schoeman, Journal of Tropical Pediatrics, Vol. 48, No. 5, October 2002, 294-9. Address: J. W. Wait, Department of Psychology, University of Stellenbosch, Republic of South Africa, email@example.com.