Stress Markers and After Effects in Children with Meningitis and Septicaemia

Understanding the cause

Scientific version
  • Researchers:
    Dr Christine Pierce, Dr Kieran O’Donnell, Dr Lola Picouto, Dr Lorraine Als, Dr Mehrengise Cooper, Dr Simon Nadel, Dr Tami Kramer, Miss Sau-Ming Hau, Miss Seray Vezir, Professor Elena Garralda, Professor Vivette Glover
  • Start Date:
    01 May 2008
  • Category:
    Treatment
  • Location:
    Imperial College School of Medicine at St Mary's Hospital, London, UK
Stress Markers and After Effects in Children with Meningitis and Septicaemia

Most people who get meningitis and septicaemia survive, often without any after effects, but sometimes these diseases cause psychological difficulties that can alter people's lives. Little is understood about what causes these after-effects.

The researchers were interested in whether critical illness leads to changes in the body’s stress response and if any changes were linked to psychological after-effects.

One way to measure the stress response is to look at the levels of two naturally produced chemicals, called cortisol and alpha-amylase, found in saliva. Both of these chemicals are increased by stress. The researchers took saliva samples from children 3-6 months after discharge from intensive care and measured the levels of these chemicals. These were compared with levels measured in healthy control children. This study formed part of a larger study looking at memory and learning following admission to intensive care with meningitis and septicaemia.


Results

The main result from this part of the study showed a link between cortisol levels and risk for psychiatric disorders. This suggests that the regulation of the stress response may have a role in the development of psychological problems following critical illness. However, these tests need to be repeated in a larger number of children before firm conclusions can be made.

St Mary's research group (left to right): Dr Lola Picouto, Dr Lorraine Als, Dr Simon Nadel, Prof Elena Garralda, Dr Menhrengise Cooper
St Mary's research group (left to right): Dr Lola Picouto, Dr Lorraine Als, Dr Simon Nadel, Prof Elena Garralda, Dr Menhrengise Cooper

Members visit - March 2010

In March 2010, several members visited St Mary's Hospital in London to find out more about this project along with the larger study that this is nested in: Assessing children's memory and learning ability following hospital admission with septicaemia and meningitis.

You can read more about the visit from member Andy Williamson's point of view here.
MRF members visiting the St Mary's hospital research team
MRF members visiting the St Mary's hospital research team

How the work is shared

This work has been presented to other leading scientists and clinicians at several conferences and has been published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood in 2010.

Dr Als also presented the work in a scientific poster at the Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) conference 2009, Nov 2009

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