A study, commissioned by the Meningitis Research Foundation, revealed that meningitis and septicaemia have a significant impact on children’s school performance, affecting their ability to learn and their behaviour worse than that of children being treated for other critical illnesses.
About 3,400 people a year contract meningitis and septicaemia, many of them children. One in four will be left with side effects such as loss of limbs, hearing impairment or brain damage.
The study, from Imperial College London, and conducted at St Mary’s and Great Ormond Street hospitals, looked at children aged five to 16 years who had been in paediatric intensive care. A series of tests were carried out five months after they had left hospital, measuring intellectual function, memory, and attention. The children’s teachers also reported on their performance at school. Children who had not been in intensive care were tested as a comparison.
Dr Lorraine Als, of Imperial College London, said: “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.”
Questionnaires completed by teachers also reported that children who had had these illnesses had problems with academic performance, completing school work and attention span – particularly those who had had septicaemia.
Chris Head, chief executive of Meningitis Research Foundation, said: “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 licensure of a MenB vaccine, as Men B is the leading cause of meningitis and septicaemia in children in the UK.”