JOURNAL ARTICLE

Clinical features and prognostic factors in adults with bacterial meningitis

Diederik van de Beek, Jan de Gans, Lodewijk Spanjaard, Martijn Weisfelt, Johannes B Reitsma, Marinus Vermeulen
New England Journal of Medicine 2004 October 28, 351 (18): 1849-59
15509818

BACKGROUND: We conducted a nationwide study in the Netherlands to determine clinical features and prognostic factors in adults with community-acquired acute bacterial meningitis.

METHODS: From October 1998 to April 2002, all Dutch patients with community-acquired acute bacterial meningitis, confirmed by cerebrospinal fluid cultures, were prospectively evaluated. All patients underwent a neurologic examination on admission and at discharge, and outcomes were classified as unfavorable (defined by a Glasgow Outcome Scale score of 1 to 4 points at discharge) or favorable (a score of 5). Predictors of an unfavorable outcome were identified through logistic-regression analysis.

RESULTS: We evaluated 696 episodes of community-acquired acute bacterial meningitis. The most common pathogens were Streptococcus pneumoniae (51 percent of episodes) and Neisseria meningitidis (37 percent). The classic triad of fever, neck stiffness, and a change in mental status was present in only 44 percent of episodes; however, 95 percent had at least two of the four symptoms of headache, fever, neck stiffness, and altered mental status. On admission, 14 percent of patients were comatose and 33 percent had focal neurologic abnormalities. The overall mortality rate was 21 percent. The mortality rate was higher among patients with pneumococcal meningitis than among those with meningococcal meningitis (30 percent vs. 7 percent, P<0.001). The outcome was unfavorable in 34 percent of episodes. Risk factors for an unfavorable outcome were advanced age, presence of otitis or sinusitis, absence of rash, a low score on the Glasgow Coma Scale on admission, tachycardia, a positive blood culture, an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate, thrombocytopenia, and a low cerebrospinal fluid white-cell count.

CONCLUSIONS: In adults presenting with community-acquired acute bacterial meningitis, the sensitivity of the classic triad of fever, neck stiffness, and altered mental status is low, but almost all present with at least two of the four symptoms of headache, fever, neck stiffness, and altered mental status. The mortality associated with bacterial meningitis remains high, and the strongest risk factors for an unfavorable outcome are those that are indicative of systemic compromise, a low level of consciousness, and infection with S. pneumoniae.

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