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Children who survived bacterial meningitis in the first year of life performed less well in academic examinations at age 16, even when they had been in mainstream schooling. A national cohort in England and Wales of 739 such children and 480 matched controls were recruited in 1985-7 and reviewed at age 5 years and 13 years. At age 16-17 years, 461 of the meningitis group and 289 of the controls responded to a questionnaire about education. Thirty six (8%) of the meningitis pupils attended special schools compared with none of the controls (but 1.7% of the national population), and a further 20 meningitis pupils and 10 controls had been identified at their mainstream (comprehensive) schools as having special educational needs.
Participants were asked about their grades in the GCSE examinations (the system used in England and Wales to assess pupils at the end of compulsory secondary education). Of those attending comprehensive schools, 184/385 (48%) of the meningitis group and 59/232 (25%) of the controls failed to achieve the national yardstick of passes at grade C or above in five subjects. Over a quarter of cases but only 7% of the controls (and 3.7% nationally) failed to gain any passes at this level. Cases who had seemed unscathed at age 5 scored just as badly.
The authors recommend continuing follow-up throughout their school years and educational support for all children who have meningitis in infancy.