SMOKING when pregnant can triple the risk of a child succumbing to a major cause of meningitis, research has shown.
Inhaling tobacco smoke in the home also made young children vulnerable, it said.
In the case of those under the age of five, passive smoking more than doubled the risk, a study found.
Scientists estimated that each year exposure to second-hand smoke led to several hundred extra children being affected by invasive meningococcal disease in the UK.
Meningococcal bacteria are responsible for the most dangerous form of meningitis and can also invade the blood, lungs or joints.
One in 20 of those struck by invasive meningococcal disease will die despite medical attention and one in six will be left severely disabled.
Several studies have suggested a link between passive smoking and meningococcal disease. Study leader Dr Rachael Murray, of the UK centre for tobacco studies at Nottingham University, said: “We estimate that an extra 630 cases of childhood invasive meningococcal disease every year are directly attributable to second-hand smoke in the UK alone.”