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Bacterial meningitis scars one in three children for life

One in three children with bacterial meningitis lives with permanent neurological disabilities due to the infection. This is led by Karolinska Institutet and published in the leading medical journal JAMA Network Open_11100000 -0000-0000-0000-000000000111_according to a new published epidemiological study .

For the first time, researchers have determined the long-term health burden of bacterial meningitis.

Bacterial infection can currently be treated with antibiotics but often causes permanent neurological impairment.

Since children are frequently affected, the results are important.

"When children are affected, the whole family is affected. If a three-year-old child has impaired cognitive ability, a motor disability, visual or hearing impairment or loss, this has a huge impact. These are lifelong obstacles and become a huge burden. "From both an individual and society perspective, those affected need healthcare support for the rest of their lives," said Federico Iovino, associate professor of Medical Microbiology at the Department of Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet and one of the authors of the current study. he says.

By analyzing data from Swedish quality registers on bacterial meningitis between 1987 and 2021, researchers were able to compare just over 3,500 people who had bacterial meningitis in childhood with more than 32,000 matched controls from the general population.

The average follow-up period is more than 23 years.

Results show that people diagnosed with bacterial meningitis consistently have a higher prevalence of neurological disabilities such as cognitive impairment, seizures, visual or hearing impairment, motor impairment, behavioral disorders, or structural damage to the head.

The risk was highest for structural head injuries; hearing impairment was almost eight times the risk, and motor impairment was almost five times the risk.

About one in three people affected by bacterial meningitis had at least one neurological disorder, compared to one in ten in controls.

Federico Iovino says, "This shows that even if the bacterial infection is treated, many people subsequently suffer from neurological disorders." he says.

Federico Iovino and his colleagues will continue their research as the long-term effects of bacterial meningitis are determined.

"We are trying to develop treatments that can protect neurons in the brain during the few days it takes for antibiotics to take full effect. We now have very promising data from human neurons and are just entering a preclinical phase with animal models. "We hope to eventually offer this in the clinic within the next few years." says Federico Iovino.

Bacterial meningitis is a rare but very serious infection that can affect people of all ages, but is most common in newborns, children, adolescents and the elderly.

It is caused by pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumoniae), which is also an important cause of bacterial respiratory infections such as pneumonia, otitis and sinusitis, which generally affect the youngest and oldest members of society.

Untreated bacterial meningitis is fatal, but the infection can now be treated with antibiotics.

However, antibiotics have difficulty passing the blood-brain barrier, which means it takes time to fight the infection.

During this period, nerve cells may be damaged and cause various permanent neurological damages.

We are also constantly faced with the danger of antibiotic resistance in clinics.


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