Expert Advice

Could Meningitis Cause Slurred Speech?

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q
My five-year-old is having a problem with his speech, which is sometimes slurred. He had viral meningitis when he was three weeks old. Do you think this is related somehow? If not, what could be causing this problem?
A
My best guess is that your son's problem with speech is not related to his central nervous system infection during the first month of his life. It is true that meningitis can result in serious complications because it is infection and inflammation of the coverings of the brain and spinal column. However, that's usually after such an infection caused by bacterial germs. The more common viral causes of meningitis are mostly self-limiting and rarely are associated with long term problems. Although the signs and symptoms are very concerning, children tend to recover quickly and well from most cases of viral meningitis.

So what about his speech? Unfortunately, I do not have his detailed medical history. You do point out that his slurred speech is only "sometimes," but I do not know if this is a recent change or whether he has always had some problem with articulating words. It is not clear what percentage of his speech is intelligible and how others react when he is speaking. I do assume he has never had any problem with chewing or swallowing, does not have any physical changes in his mouth and throat areas, and does not have any known neurologic problems. Any of these could suggest and contribute to a speech problem.

I would recommend discussing your concern with his pediatrician. An evaluation by a speech and language pathologist, an expert on speech, may be appropriate.

Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.

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