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Secondhand Smoke Puts Children at Risk for Meningitis

Review found smoking during pregnancy and in the home raised odds of dangerous bacterial infection

TUESDAY, Dec. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to secondhand smoke -- during their mother's pregnancy or later in the home -- greatly increases children's risk of invasive meningococcal disease, according to a new evidence review.

Invasive meningococcal disease is a major cause of bacterial meningitis and can also cause severe illness when bacteria invade the blood, lungs or joints. Children and young adults are particularly at risk.

The death rate for meningococcal disease is nearly 5 percent, and one in six patients will be left with a severe disability, including neurological or behavioral problems.

U.K. researchers reviewed 18 previously published studies and found that exposure to secondhand smoke at home doubled the risk of invasive meningococcal disease in children. The risk was even higher for children younger than 5 years old.

The results of the review also showed that children born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy were three times more likely to develop invasive meningococcal disease than those born into nonsmoking households.

The study was published Dec. 10 in the journal BMC Public Health.

"We estimate that an extra 630 cases of childhood invasive meningococcal disease every year are directly attributable to secondhand smoke in the U.K. alone," study author Dr. Rachael Murray, of the U.K. Center for Tobacco Control Studies at the University of Nottingham, said in a journal news release.

"While we cannot be sure exactly how tobacco smoke is affecting these children, the findings from this study highlight consistent evidence of the further harms of smoking around children and during pregnancy, and thus parents and family members should be encouraged to not smoke in the home or around children," she added.

Although the researchers found an association between secondhand smoke and invasive meningococcal disease, the evidence review did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about meningococcal disease (http://www.cdc.gov/Features/Meningococcal/ ).

SOURCE: BMC Public Health, news release, Dec. 10, 2012