oa South African Medical Journal - Hearing outcomes in children with meningitis at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa : a silent crisis - research

Volume 108 Number 11
  • ISSN : 0256-9574
  • E-ISSN: 2078-5135



Background. Bacterial meningitis is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. Hearing loss develops within the first few days following the onset of meningitis, highlighting the importance of early audiology referrals. Post-meningitis hearing loss may lead to cochlear ossification, making traditional cochlear implantation impossible. 

Objectives. To determine the duration of time from meningitis diagnosis to audiology referral. A second objective was to determine the prevalence and severity of meningitis-related sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (RCWMCH), a paediatric tertiary hospital in Cape Town, South Africa (SA). Methods. A retrospective folder review of all children diagnosed with meningitis and referred for audiological evaluation was conducted over an 18-month period between 1 January 2015 and 30 June 2016. Descriptive statistical methods were used for data analysis. 

Results. The total number of inpatients diagnosed with unspecified meningitis at RCWMCH between January 2015 and June 2016 was 345. The total number diagnosed with bacterial meningitis was 68. Only 16 children with meningitis (23.5%) were referred to the Department of Audiology at RCWMCH over the 18-month period. Twelve children had confirmed bacterial meningitis. All the children had up-to-date immunisations. The mean (standard deviation) time from diagnosis to audiology referral was 17 weeks (16.9; range 1 - 60). The overall prevalence of hearing loss was 42.8%. Four children (28.5%) were diagnosed with severe to profound SNHL. 

Conclusions. Less than a quarter of all children diagnosed with bacterial meningitis at RCWMCH over the 18-month study period were referred to audiology. Frequent delays in referrals for audiological assessment following meningitis were noted. This may indicate a lack of awareness on the part of doctors. Healthcare practitioners need to be made aware of the need for prompt audiological testing for children with meningitis. In SA, local guidelines for early diagnosis and monitoring of hearing in children who have had meningitis should be developed in order to improve hearing outcomes.

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