Few data sources are available to assess the global and regional risk of sequelae from bacterial meningitis. We aimed to estimate the risks of major and minor sequelae caused by bacterial meningitis, estimate the distribution of the different types of sequelae, and compare risk by region and income. We systematically reviewed published papers from 1980 to 2008. Standard global burden of disease categories (cognitive deficit, bilateral hearing loss, motor deficit, seizures, visual impairment, hydrocephalus) were labelled as major sequelae. Less severe, minor sequelae (behavioural problems, learning difficulties, unilateral hearing loss, hypotonia, diplopia), and multiple impairments were also included. 132 papers were selected for inclusion. The median (IQR) risk of at least one major or minor sequela after hospital discharge was 19.9% (12.3-35.3%). The risk of at least one major sequela was 12.8% (7.2-21.1%) and of at least one minor sequela was 8.6% (4.4-15.3%). The median (IQR) risk of at least one major sequela was 24.7% (16.2-35.3%) in pneumococcal meningitis; 9.5% (7.1-15.3%) in Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), and 7.2% (4.3-11.2%) in meningococcal meningitis. The most common major sequela was hearing loss (33.9%), and 19.7% had multiple impairments. In the random-effects meta-analysis, all-cause risk of a major sequela was twice as high in the African (pooled risk estimate 25.1% [95% CI 18.9-32.0%]) and southeast Asian regions (21.6% [95% CI 13.1-31.5%]) as in the European region (9.4% [95% CI 7.0-12.3%]; overall I(2)=89.5%, p<0.0001). Risks of long-term disabling sequelae were highest in low-income countries, where the burden of bacterial meningitis is greatest. Most reported sequelae could have been averted by vaccination with Hib, pneumococcal, and meningococcal vaccines.
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