Smokers' children run meningitis risk
Parents who smoke are putting their children at a greater risk of developing meningitis, scientists have discovered.
Babies who live in a smoky environment are more likely to harbour the deadly meningitis bacteria and go on to contract the illness than those living in a cigarette-free household, scientists at Edinburgh University said. Tobacco smoke appears to help the meningococcal bacteria (Neisseria meningitidis) adhere to the tissues lining the throat, and the more smoke a baby comes into contact with, the more bacteria they will have. A child with parents who smoke is also more likely to catch colds and flu, which can trigger the disease.
Caroline Blackwell, one of the study team from the university's department of medical microbiology, believes the findings could also have implications for research into cot death and chest infections among babies.
"It has been known for some years that smokers are much more likely to be carriers of bacteria," she said. "What we found was an important association. If a mother smoked, we were more likely to find the bacteria in her children. The greater the number of bacteria present, the greater the risk that they will develop the disease."
Dr Blackwell and her team studied more than 250 babies in Greece and found that those who had the bacteria all had mothers who smoked.
The research was carried out in Greece because equal numbers of women in the country across the social spectrum smoke, whereas in Britain smoking is more common among people from poorer backgrounds.
Meningitis is more commonamong poorer people in Britain, a fact that may be explained, at least in part, by the newly discovered link with smoking.
The researchers also found that passive smokers suffered the same effects as smokers on the tissue in their throats and nasal passages.