What is the role of pharmacologic therapy in the treatment of meningococcal meningitis?

Updated: Jul 16, 2018
  • Author: Francisco de Assis Aquino Gondim, MD, PhD, MSc, FAAN; Chief Editor: Niranjan N Singh, MBBS, MD, DM, FAHS, FAANEM  more...
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Institute antimicrobial therapy as soon as possible after the lumbar puncture is performed.

Long delays may occur in the emergency department before initiation of antibiotics in patients with suspected bacterial meningitis. In general, these delays appear to be physician generated and, to a great extent, potentially avoidable. [16]

A study has suggested that, at least in children, CSF sterilization may occur more rapidly after initiation of parenteral antibiotics than previously suggested, with complete sterilization of meningococcus within 2 hours and the beginning of sterilization of pneumococcus by 4 hours.

Standard empirical therapy

At presentation, meningitis due to N meningitidis may be impossible to differentiate from other types of meningitis. Thus, empirical treatment with an antibiotic with effective CNS penetration should be based on age and underlying disease status, since delay in treatment is associated with adverse clinical outcome.

Initial empirical therapy until the etiology is established should include dexamethasone, a third-generation cephalosporin (eg, ceftriaxone, cefotaxime), and vancomycin. Acyclovir should be considered according to the results of the initial cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) evaluation. Doxycycline should also be added during tick season in endemic areas. A 7-day course of intravenous ceftriaxone or penicillin is adequate for uncomplicated meningococcal meningitis.

If imaging studies are indicated before lumbar puncture, draw blood for culture and begin administration of empiric antibiotics. Administration of empiric antibiotics is unlikely to decrease diagnostic sensitivity if CSF is tested for bacterial antigens early in the course of the illness.

Treatment following diagnosis

Once an accurate diagnosis of meningococcal meningitis is established, appropriate changes can be made. Currently, a third-generation cephalosporin (ceftriaxone or cefotaxime) is the drug of choice for the treatment of meningococcal meningitis and septicemia. Penicillin G, ampicillin, chloramphenicol, fluoroquinolone, and aztreonam are alternatives therapies (IDSA guidelines).

The use of dexamethasone in the management of bacterial meningitis in adults remains controversial. It may be used in children, especially in those with meningitis caused by Haemophilus influenzae. In adults with suspected bacterial meningitis, especially in high-risk cases, the adjunctive use of dexamethasone may be beneficial.

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