Cochlear implants and meningitis

In July 2002, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned of a possible association between meningitis and cochlear implants. This device is implanted in the inner ear to treat severe hearing loss that does not improve with hearing aids.

While the overall risk of getting meningitis after having a cochlear implant is small, a recent study did find an increased incidence of bacterial meningitis in children with cochlear implants.1

Experts think one or more factors may put some people with a cochlear implant at higher risk of meningitis than others with an implant. These include people who have:

  • An abnormally formed inner ear.
  • Had previous meningitis infection.
  • Frequent ear infections.
  • A poorly functioning immune system.
  • Had previous ear or head surgery.

Investigators also are looking at whether the design of the implants contributes to development of meningitis.

To reduce the risk of getting meningitis, people with cochlear implants should be vaccinated against Streptococcus pneumoniae. Also, some people with implants had ear infections before they developed meningitis. For this reason, experts recommend that people with implants receive prompt antibiotic treatment for ear infections.

Citations

  1. Reefhuis J, et al. (2003). Risk of bacterial meningitis in children with cochlear implants. New England Journal of Medicine, 349(5): 435–445.

Last Updated: December 24, 2008

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