MONDAY, Oct. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Health-care providers should move quickly to try to restore hearing in children who become deaf after developing pneumococcal meningitis, a small new study finds.

The number of cases of meningitis and related diseases have dropped sharply since a vaccine for meningitis -- the 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7) -- became available in 2001.

"However, pneumococcal meningitis continues to occur, even in healthy children who receive the recommended PCV7 vaccination series in early childhood," Drs. Tina Tan and Nancy Young. from Children's Memorial Hospital and Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, said in a news release from the journal in which the study was published.

In children left deaf by the disease, the cochlea tends to harden into bone over time, making it difficult to install an electronic hearing device known as a cochlear implant, Tan and Young explained. (The cochlea is the structure in the ear where sound vibrations are converted into nerve impulses.)

For this reason, the two physicians wrote, it's important for cochlear implant programs to proceed quickly to install the hearing device in children recently deafened by meningitis.

Their small case series study included five PCV7-vaccinated children, aged 15 months to 10 years, who lost hearing in both ears after being ill with pneumococcal meningitis. They received immediate evaluation and treatment, and all successfully underwent cochlear implantation in both ears to restore hearing. The average time between meningitis diagnosis and cochlear implantation was 36.8 days.

Although children being evaluated for a cochlear implant in the authors' clinic usually undergo a hearing aid trial for two to three months, Tan and Young felt more more rapid treatment was needed in three of the post-meningitis patients to ensure that the implants took place before the cochlea hardened.

The study appears in the October issue of the journal Otolaryngology -- Head & Neck Surgery.

More information

The Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada has more about pneumococcal meningitis.