This study determined the prevalence of serious sequelae among a national cohort of 5-year old children, born in England and Wales in 1996-7, who had had neonatal meningitis. The results were compared with those from two matched control groups. In addition the results from this study were compared with those from a previous 5-year follow-up of children who had had neonatal meningitis in 1985-7. Follow-up questionnaires requesting information about the children's health and development were sent to the general practitioners (GPs) and parents of the index children and controls. Information was collected on 166 of 232 (72%) children who had had meningitis as neonates, 109 general practice controls and 191 hospital controls. At 5 years, 39/166 (23%) index children had a serious disability compared to 2% of GP controls and 7% of hospital controls. There was a 16-fold increase in risk of serious disability compared to GP-matched controls and a 4-fold increase in risk compared to hospital controls. The isolation of bacteria from the CSF was the best single predictor of serious long-term disability. Although there was a 70% fall in acute phase mortality between 1985 (22%) and 1996 (6.6%), the overall incidence of serious disability remained alarmingly high, 25.5% in 1985 compared to 23.5% in 1996. In the present study, however, fewer children had cerebral palsy or seizure disorders.
Conclusion: Despite the dramatic improvement in acute phase survival following neonatal meningitis, the prevalence of serious sequelae remains alarmingly high.