Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Meningitis link to smoking in pregnancy: Cigarettes can treble child’s chance of developing the disease

In recent years a number of studies have shown passive smoking increases a child's risk of meningitis. But this is one of the first to show the link between a mother smoking during pregnancy

Smoking during pregnancy can treble the baby’s chance of developing meningitis, researchers warn, and children exposed to smoke from a parent’s cigarettes at home are twice as likely to have the deadly illness.

Scientists estimate that more than 600 children a year in Britain develop meningitis as a result of their parents’ second-hand smoke. They think that passive smoking gradually weakens children’s immune system making them more susceptible to the illness.

Every year around 2,500 people develop meningitis a year in Britain although it is most common in the under 5s. Up to 1 in 20 die and 1 in 6 are left severely disabled.

Meanwhile the latest NHS figures show that 13 per cent of women who give birth are smokers -or 95,000 new mothers in Britain a year.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham analysed 18 studies which looked at the link between passive smoking and meningitis. They found that children exposed to second hand smoke in the home were more than twice as likely to get the illness. The under-fives were even more vulnerable - they were found to be two and a half times more at risk. And children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy were three times more likely to get meningitis, the study published in BMC Public Health found.

Lead researcher Dr Rachael Murray, from the UK Centre for Tobacco Studies at the University of Nottingham, said:‘We estimate that an extra 630 cases of childhood invasive meningococcal disease every year are directly attributable to second-hand smoke in the UK alone.

In recent years a number of studies have shown passive smoking increases a child's risk of meningitis. But this is one of the first to show the link between a mother smoking during pregnancy '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.’  The findings of this latest study imply this process begins while the baby is still in the womb.

Meningitis is caused by an infection of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. If not treated quickly it can cause brain damage and nerve damage. Symptoms include severe headache, a rash, vomiting, high temperature and a dislike of bright lights. Experts think that smoke contains bacteria which gradually weaken children’s immune systems.

Earlier this year the Royal College of Physicians estimated that passive smoking was the cause of 300,000 GP visits in children a year.



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