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Meningitis and septicaemia affect child's learning

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
child in class

13th February 2013 - A study has found that meningitis, encephalitis and septicaemia have a significant impact on children’s school performance. Their ability to learn and their behaviour are especially affected and are worse than for children treated in intensive care with other critical illnesses.

The new research from Imperial College London, looked at 88 children aged five to 16 years old who had been in paediatric intensive care at two London hospitals: St Mary’s and Great Ormond Street.

Low test score

The children had a series of tests five months after leaving hospital, measuring intellectual function, memory and attention. The children’s teachers also reported on their performance at school. Children who hadn’t been in intensive care were tested as a comparison.

Dr Lorraine Als of Imperial College London said in a press release: "Overall, the children who had been in intensive care scored significantly lower on most tests than those who hadn’t, but those with meningitis, encephalitis and/or septicaemia had the worst scores. The difference was particularly noticeable for IQ and memory.

"Teachers’ questionnaires also reported that children who had had meningitis, encephalitis and/or septicaemia were affected at school, having problems with academic performance, completing school work and attention span. This was particularly noticeable in children who had had septicaemia."

Meningitis, septicaemia, encephalitis

Meningitis is inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. It is most often caused by infection with viruses or bacteria. Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain and is also often caused by viral or bacterial infection. Encephalitis often occurs together with meningitis.

Septicaemia (blood poisoning) is most often caused by bacteria entering the blood stream.

Most people who get meningitis and/or septicaemia do recover but they do need urgent treatment in hospital first.

In many cases, people survive with one or more long-term complications due to damage to the brain.

Meningitis B vaccine

A successful childhood vaccination programme that protects against many of the bacteria that can cause meningitis has virtually eliminated bacterial meningitis and septicaemia due to meningococcal C and Hib infections.

Until recently there has been no vaccine against Meningitis B which is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK. However, in January a vaccine was licensed for use in Europe. The Government is currently looking at the use of this vaccine in the UK and the Meningitis UK and Meningitis Trust charities are urging the Government to act swiftly so that the vaccine is available as part of the routine schedule of immunisations given to children on the NHS.

Chris Head, Chief Executive of Meningitis Research Foundation said in a media statement: "This research perfectly highlights how meningitis and septicaemia damage children’s learning and academic performance during their crucial school years. This illustrates the importance of educational support for children affected. It also provides further evidence for prevention of these diseases, especially in the light of the recent license of a MenB vaccine as Men B is the leading cause of meningitis and septicaemia in children in the UK."

The study was funded by the Meningitis Research Foundation and has been published in the journal Critical Care Medicine.

Reviewed on February 13, 2013

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