Is the use of steroid therapy (dexamethasone) effective in the treatment of bacterial meningitis?

Updated: Jul 16, 2019
  • Author: Rodrigo Hasbun, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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The use of corticosteroids (typically, dexamethasone, 0.15 mg/kg every 6 hours for 2-4 days) as adjunctive treatment for bacterial meningitis improves outcome by attenuating the detrimental effects of host defenses (eg, inflammatory response to the bacterial products and the products of neutrophil activation). Controversy surrounds this practice, however, in that dexamethasone may interrupt the cytokine-mediated neurotoxic effects of bacteriolysis, which are at maximum in the first days of antibiotic use. [37]

Theoretically, the anti-inflammatory effects of steroids decrease blood-brain barrier permeability and impede penetration of antibiotics into CSF. Decreased CSF levels of vancomycin have been confirmed in steroid-treated animals but not in comparably treated humans. Many authorities believe that all other antibiotics achieve minimal inhibitory concentrations (MICs) in CSF regardless of steroid use, and even vancomycin may not be affected to a clinically significant extent.

Nevertheless, the use of steroids has been shown to improve the overall outcome of patients with certain types of bacterial meningitis, including H influenzae, tuberculous, and pneumococcal meningitis.

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