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Sunday, 11 June, 2000, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Smokers' babies 'risk meningitis'
Mothers smoking
Babies whose parents smoke 'have a doubled risk'
Parents who smoke increase the risk of their babies contracting life-threatening bacterial meningitis, say researchers at Edinburgh University.

The study, carried out in Greece, found that cigarette smoke helps the bacteria adhere to the tissues lining the throat.

The more smoke the babies were exposed to, the more bacteria they harboured.

Dr Caroline Blackwell, one of the study team from the university's department of medical microbiology, said the discovery also had implications for research into cot death and chest infections among babies.

Most people have a natural resistance to meningococcal meningitis, but there is a small risk of complications, particularly for children under five.

"It has been known for some years that smokers are much more likely to be carriers of bacteria," said Dr Blackwell.

"What we found was an important association. If a mother smoked, we were more likely to find the bacteria in these children.

"With most bacterial infection, the greater the number of bacteria present, the greater the risk of developing increases."

The risk of suffering from meningitis was doubled in children of smokers, she added.

Poverty link

Dr Blackwell and her team carried out a study of more than 250 babies in Greece and found those who had the meningococcal bacteria all had mothers who smoked.

The finding showed passive smokers suffered the same effects as smokers on the tissue in their throats and nasal passages.

The study was carried out in Greece because equal numbers of women in the country across the social spectrum smoke, whereas in Britain, smoking is higher among people from poorer backgrounds.

Meningitis infection is also higher among people from a low-income background and Dr Blackwell said her research showed the link between smoking and meningitis could go some way to explaining that.

And she said the bacteria which cause cot death and childhood chest infections were also affected by the research.

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14 Apr 00 | Scotland
Meningitis funding plea
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