May 8, 2015

Long-term Effects of Bacterial Meningitis

Q: What is bacterial meningitis, and are there any long-term effects like hearing or immune system issues? -- Joanie Otis

A: With bacterial meningitis, a life-threatening infection, bacteria enter the central nervous system. It has rather nonspecific symptoms, such as headache and fever, so parents can confuse it with the flu in the early stages. Neck pain, particularly with head movement, and eye pain with light are worrisome signs that suggest meningitis and should prompt immediate medical attention because antibiotics can treat most forms of it. But even if antibiotics are given in a timely fashion, there can be serious consequences, including hearing loss and other neurological deficits. Typically, immune system issues don’t follow bacterial meningitis unless an immune deficiency was an underlying contributing factor.

Jeffrey Kahn, M.D.
Jeffrey Kahn, M.D.

The most important take-home message: Safe, effective vaccines exist for many common forms of bacterial meningitis, and vaccination is the most effective means to prevent meningitis.

-- Jeffrey Kahn, M.D., division director of Infectious Diseases at Children’s and professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at UT Southwestern

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