This research showed that the number of babies under three months old contracting bacterial meningitis has not fallen for twenty-five years, indicating the urgent need for better prevention of a potentially fatal disease.

Why was this work needed?

Babies under three months old are 70 times more likely to develop bacterial meningitis than adults. The infection is fatal for one in ten babies who contract it.

What happened?

Between July 2010 and July 2011, researchers monitored the cases of bacterial meningitis in babies under 3 months. They then compared their results to similar studies carried out in the 1980s and 1990s and found that, despite many other medical advances, there has been little change in the infection rate in the last twenty-five years.

What were the benefits?

Although some measures are already in place to prevent very young babies being infected by bacterial meningitis, this study clearly indicates that a stronger prevention strategy is needed. For example, vaccines are currently in development, but data from studies like this will be vital in demonstrating the cost effectiveness of a future vaccination programme.

What type of data was involved?

The researchers used a range of sources to identify cases of bacterial meningitis between July 2010 and July 2011, including the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit, hospital microbiology laboratory reports and parental reporting via meningitis support charities. Once cases had been identified, the treating clinician was asked to fill out a questionnaire, outlining demographic and clinical information about the cases. The researchers checked that they had identified all fatal cases by comparing them against Office for National Statistics death data.

Ethical approval for this study was granted by the Cambridgeshire 2 Research Ethics Committee and permission was also granted to collect patient identifiable information by the National Information Governance Board, under a Section 251 approval.

Who funded and collaborated on this work?

This study was funded by the Meningitis Research Foundation and carried out at St George’s University of London.

Where can I go for more information?

New research has shown that the burden of meningitis in babies unchanged in 25 years

Incidence, Etiology, and Outcome of Bacterial Meningitis in Infants Aged <90 Days in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland: Prospective, Enhanced, National Population-Based Surveillance