Skip to content

    Health & Pregnancy

    Font Size

    Cochlear Implants Raise Meningitis Risk

    CDC Advises Vaccination, Other Steps to Improve Safety
    WebMD Health News

    July 30, 2003 -- Cochlear implants do indeed increase a child's risk of bacterial meningitis, the CDC confirms.

    The FDA last year sent out an urgent warning that the hearing devices seemed to be linked to a dangerous brain infection. The FDA asked the CDC to investigate. The results of that investigation appear in the July 31 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

    "We found many more cases of bacterial meningitis among children with cochlear implants than among children in the general population," study leader Jennita Reefhuis, PhD, tells WebMD. "But some of these cases may also be due to other risk factors. Meningitis is more common among deaf children. And a lot of children become deaf due to having had meningitis."

    "It's still a very uncommon sequel of this type of surgery," George A. Gates, MD, tells WebMD. An editorial by Gates, director of the Bloedel Hearing Research Center at the University of Washington in Seattle, accompanies the CDC report.

    After investigating 4,264 children who got the implants, the CDC found only 26 cases of bacterial meningitis.

    Nevertheless, Reefhuis' CDC team found that bacterial meningitis occurs 30 times more often in children who get cochlear implants than in other children. And they confirmed another FDA suspicion as well.

    'Positioner' Models Further Increase Risk

    One of the three manufacturers of cochlear implants -- Advanced Bionics Corp. -- in some models used a component called a positioner to hold the device in place. At the FDA's suggestion, the company voluntarily withdrew this device from the market. And wisely so. The CDC finds that cochlear implants with positioners are linked to four and a half times as many cases of bacterial meningitis as other types of the device.

    "We actually don't know how the positioner increases the risk," Reefhuis says. "We don't know what will be the effect over time."

    But Gates says there's no reason for people who got the positioner-type implants to have them removed.

    Benefit Still Outweighs Risk

    Cochlear implants aren't your average hearing aid. Designed for people with deafening nerve damage, the devices are surgically implanted deep within the ear. They turn sound waves into electric signals that are passed to nerve fibers leading into the brain. The devices have restored hearing to many people who can't be helped by other types of hearing aids.

    1 | 2 | 3

    Pregnancy Week-By-Week Newsletter

    Delivered right to your inbox, get pictures and facts on
    what to expect each week of your pregnancy.

    Today on WebMD

    hand circling date on calendar
    Track your most fertile days.
    woman looking at ultrasound
    Week-by-week pregnancy guide.
    Pretty pregnant woman timing contaction pains
    The signs to watch out for.
    pregnant woman in hospital
    Are there ways to do it naturally?
    slideshow fetal development
    pregnancy first trimester warning signs
    What Causes Bipolar
    Woman trying on dress in store
    pregnant woman
    Woman looking at pregnancy test
    calendar and baby buggy
    dark chocolate squares