Statement regarding new meningitis research | Action Medical Research

Statement regarding new meningitis research

7 September 2001
Action Research study reiterates the benefits of vaccination Children who develop meningitis in their first year of life are ten times more likely to suffer severe or moderate disability at five-years-old than their classmates, according to new research being published in this week’s British Medical Journal (Vol 323 issue date September 8). The findings are from the world’s largest follow-up study of meningitis sufferers which was funded by Action Research, a leading medical research charity. The charity says the study demonstrates the importance of identifying children who might demand extra attention and care. It also reiterates the importance of widespread vaccination programmes. John Grounds, director of campaigns and communications says: ‘Meningitis has been known to be the most common life threatening infection of childhood. As this research has unveiled it’s a vicious disease which can leave in its wake not only long-term disabilities but subtle and severe problems with behaviour and performance. ‘As children take their first steps back to school this week parents can take some comfort from knowing that medical research is helping make meningitis a disease of the past.’ Dr Helen Bedford, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Paediatric Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Institute of Child Health, echoes these calls. She says: ‘This study highlights the potentially devastating consequences of meningitis and should remind clinicians of the importance of careful follow up of all children following an attack. ‘The introduction of two highly effective vaccines against Hib and Meningitis C within the last ten years has greatly reduced the burden of death and disability associated with the disease. Research is needed to develop further vaccines and other effective preventive strategies.’ 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. The BMJ paper, ‘Meningitis in infancy in England and Wales: follow up at age 5 years’, provides a wide picture of the range of problems experienced by young sufferers. More than 1,700 children were identified from England and Wales who had survived an acute attack of meningitis between 1985 and 1987, and children of the same age and sex, but who hadn’t had meningitis, served as a control group. Researchers found that two per cent of children who lived through their original illness died before the age of five. Among the survivors, there was an increased risk of mild disorders such as middle ear disease, squint, and behavioural problems. The team also found that children who had meningitis as newborns had more health and development problems than those infected after one month of age. The rates of disability varied widely in children infected with different strains of bacteria. The same cohort of children was assessed in another recent Action Research funded project which came to a close this year. The two and half year study found that the children (who survived meningitis as infants) were more likely to be disruptive as teenagers and more likely to need special tuition. Other subtle behavioural problems included temper tantrums, inability to socialise, and difficulties with school work or relationships, says Professor David Harvey, who led the project at London’s Hammersmith Hospital. Over the last 13 years, Action Research, which is approaching its 50th anniversary, has funded eight meningitis research projects at a total cost of £771,071. For further media information and interviews, please contact Nicole Duckworth in the Action Research press office on 01403 327403 Fax: 01403 210541, or email nduckworth@action.org.uk ISDN facilities are available.
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