FDA Officials Warn of Meningitis, Cochlear Implant Link

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)are asking physicians to report any cases of meningitis in patients who have received a cochlear implant after 13 people with the device have reportedly fallen ill from the bacterium.

Also, they urge healthcare workers to treat ear infections vigorously in cochlear implant patients. Two preschool-aged children with the implants have died. An additional 12 meningitis case and seven deaths of cochlear implant patients abroad are being investigated.

Experts have said that while the implants have not been found to be contaminated, invasive devices leave the body more prone to illness. Additionally, many patients who receive the auditory-aiding device have inner-ear abnormalities that may make them more prone to infection.

Meningitis can be spread by two different pathogens. The bacterial form, caused by Neisseria meningitidis, is also known as meningococcal meningitis. While this form usually begins with flu-like symptoms, it can quickly cause a headache, fever, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, a stiff neck, and patients complain about bright lights. Within a few hours, this bacterium can push a person to delirium, coma, or convulsions. It develops in the bloodstream and if the bacterium goes untreated, it can invade organs, cause a hemorrhagic rash, and gangrene. It is fatal in 15% of patients treated with antibiotics and 50% of patients who go untreated.

There are 22,000 Americans who have received cochlear implants to date.