Bacterial meningitis leaves lifelong mark on one in three kids

Long-term disabilities surge after childhood bacterial meningitis in sweden.


One out of every three children who get bacterial meningitis ends up with lasting problems in their brain or nerves, says a study by Karolinska Institutet. The infection can be treated with antibiotics, but it often leaves behind permanent damage. This is the first time researchers have looked at the long-term effects of bacterial meningitis. Since it mainly affects kids, the impact is quite severe.

Federico Iovino, associate professor in Medical Microbiology at the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, and one of the current study’s authors, said, “When children are affected, the whole family is affected. If a three-year-old child has impaired cognition, a motor disability, or impaired or lost vision or hearing, it has a major impact. These are lifelong disabilities that become a major burden for both the individual and society, as those affected need health care support for the rest of their lives.”

Researchers looked at information about bacterial meningitis from 1987 to 2021 from a Swedish database. They studied more than 3,500 people with bacterial meningitis as kids. They compared them to over 32,000 similar people from the general population. The follow-up time was over 23 years.

The findings reveal that those who had bacterial meningitis as children often have more problems with their brain and nerves, like trouble thinking, seizures, difficulty seeing or hearing, situation moving, behavior issues, or damage to the head.

People who have bacterial meningitis, especially as kids, face a higher chance of head injuries. The risk is much greater for structural head injuries (26 times), hearing problems (almost eight times), and difficulty moving (nearly five times).

One in three individuals with bacterial meningitis had at least one brain or nerve issue, compared to one in ten in the control group. According to Federico Iovino, even after the infection is treated, many still experience these problems. Now, he and his team will continue studying the long-term effects of bacterial meningitis.

Federico Iovino said, “We are trying to develop treatments that can protect neurons in the brain during the window of a few days it takes for antibiotics to take full effect. We now have auspicious data from human neurons and are just entering a preclinical phase with animal models. Eventually, we hope to present this in the clinic within the next few years.”

The study’s lead researcher, Federico Iovino, highlights the significance of the findings, indicating that the damage caused by bacterial meningitis extends beyond the acute phase of the infection. With the identification of these long-term effects, the researchers plan to further investigate and understand the mechanisms underlying the neurological impact of bacterial meningitis, contributing valuable insights for future preventive and therapeutic strategies.

Journal reference:

  1. Salini Mohanty, Urban Johansson Kostenniemi, et al., Increased Risk of Long-Term Disabilities Following Childhood Bacterial Meningitis in Sweden. JAMA Network Open. DOI:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.52402.


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