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August 8, 2003

Bionic ear manufacturer hit by meningitis scare

From: Dial Infolink Manufacturing, Australia - Aug 8, 2003

Shares in bionic ear maker Cochlear slumped in early trade on Thursday after a study linked inner-ear hearing implants with an increased risk of contracting meningitis.

A United States study revealed the incidence of meningitis increased by 30 times in children with some inner-ear implants.

But Cochlear, which makes the hearing aid devices, was quick to distance its Nucleus implant system from the study's findings.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that 26 children, out of more than 4000 under the age of six, who had received the implant between January 1, 1997, and August 6, 2002, had contracted bacterial meningitis.

"The incidence of meningitis...was more than 30 times the incidence in a cohort of the same age in the general US population," the study said.

It said meningitis was strongly associated with the use of an implant which included a positioner - a wedge inserted next to the implanted electrode to facilitate transmission of the electrical signal.

"The incidence of meningitis among patients who had received an implant with a positioner remained higher than the incidence among those whose implants did not have a positioner," the study said.

The study recommended children with implants should be properly vaccinated and monitored for any bacterial infections.

While Cochlear acknowledged the study found children with inner-ear implants with positioners were at increased risk of meningitis, it said its implant did not include a positioner.

"Cochlear's Nucleus implant system does not, and has never, included a positioner," a spokesman said.

"The system retains full commercial approval for implantation in children as young as 12 months in the US, Europe and Asia."

This is not the first time Cochlear shares have been hit by concerns of a link between inner-ear hearing implants and the risk of meningitis.

In July last year the stock plunged more than 10% when the US Food and Drug Administration said 25 adults and children with implants in the cochlea - the inner ear - had been diagnosed with the deadly brain and spinal infection.

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