Meningitis: Studying the survivors | Action Medical Research

Meningitis: Studying the survivors

3 January 2001
Teenagers more likely to develop behavioural problems Children who survived meningitis as infants are more likely to be disruptive as teenagers, according to a study awarded by leading medical charity Action Research. Preliminary findings suggest that they are eight times more susceptible to suffer ‘exclusion’ from school than their ‘non-meningitis’ classmates. They are also more likely to need special tuition. Other subtle behavioural problems include temper tantrums, inability to socialise, and difficulties with school work or relationships, says Professor David Harvey, who is leading the project at London’s Hammersmith Hospital. He adds: ‘Many studies have found that problems in school are very common among children who have survived neonatal intensive care.These are often called minor problems, but they may be major ones for children and their families. ‘The results so far are striking, and quite worrying. They demonstrate the need for young meningitis sufferers to have long term follow-ups, and if necessary, special attention and care.’ Meningitis is a potentially-fatal disease which can occur at any time of year, but cases usually reach a peak in the winter months between September and March. During the two and half year project, Professor Harvey is studying many of the 2,000 children in England and Wales who survived meningitis before their first birthday between 1985 and 1987. A questionnaire was sent to more than 1,000 families when their child reached 13, and with parental consent, to the child’s teacher. A group of control children (who had not had meningitis) underwent the same follow-up, and the behaviour of the two groups of children studied for any differences. The teachers indicated that eight children in the meningitis group compared with none of the controls had been expelled from school. Twice as many children in the meningitis group as the controls had behavioural problems. And six per cent of the former attended a special group, compared to less than one percent in the latter. It was also discovered that three times as many families of children who had had meningitis experienced negative behaviour at home as did those of the control children. ‘Although meningitis is a potentially-fatal disease, thankfully more and more sufferers are surviving’, says Professor Harvey, of the ICSM Department of Paediatrics and Neonatal Medicine. ‘But with what long-term consequences? ‘Deafness, blindness and cerebral palsy are known to occur in some severe cases, but there are more subtle effects which are less well documented. ‘It’s important that we identify children early to make sure they are given adequate learning support as they start school, thereby helping lessen the possibility of bad behaviour.’ The behaviour of another group of children who had been in hospital while under a yea-old but for an illness other than meningitis is also being examined. Early results show this behaviour may be similar to the meningitis group, although none had been expelled from school. Over the last 13 years, Action Research has funded eight meningitis research projects at a total cost of £771,071. Action Research launched its Touching Lives campaign this year, which aims to raise £1.5m for vital medical research to benefit children and families across the UK. Visit the charity’s website at For further media and press information, please contact Nicole Duckworth in the Action Research press office on 01403 327403 Fax: 01403 210541, or email A meningitis fact-file and case study are also available.
Help us spread the word