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Bacterial meningitis is an acute purulent infection within the subarachnoid space (SAS). It is associated with a CNS inflammatory reaction that may result in decreased consciousness, seizures, raised intracranial pressure (ICP), and stroke. The meninges, SAS, and brain parenchyma are all frequently involved in the inflammatory reaction (meningoencephalitis).


Bacterial meningitis is the most common form of suppurative CNS infection, with an annual incidence in the United States of >2.5 cases/100,000 population. The organisms most often responsible for community-acquired bacterial meningitis are Streptococcus pneumoniae (~50%), Neisseria meningitidis (~25%), group B streptococci (~15%), and Listeria monocytogenes (~10%). Haemophilus influenzae type b accounts for <10% of cases of bacterial meningitis in most series. N. meningitidis is the causative organism of recurring epidemics of meningitis every 8–12 years.


S. pneumoniae (Chap. 143) is the most common cause of meningitis in adults >20 years of age, accounting for nearly half the reported cases (1.1 per 100,000 persons per year). There are a number of predisposing conditions that increase the risk of pneumococcal meningitis, the most important of which is pneumococcal pneumonia. Additional risk factors include coexisting acute or chronic pneumococcal sinusitis or otitis media, alcoholism, diabetes, splenectomy, hypogammaglobulinemia, complement deficiency, and head trauma with basilar skull fracture and CSF rhinorrhea. The mortality rate remains ~20% despite antibiotic therapy.

The incidence of meningitis due to N. meningitidis (Chap. 150) has decreased with the routine immunization of 11- to 18-year-olds with the quadrivalent (serogroups A, C, W-135, and Y) meningococcal glycoconjugate vaccine. The vaccine does not contain serogroup B, which is responsible for one-third of cases of meningococcal disease. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that adolescents and young adults aged 16–23 years may be vaccinated with the serogroup B meningococcal (MenB) vaccine. The presence of petechial or purpuric skin lesions can provide an important clue to the diagnosis of meningococcal infection. In some patients the disease is fulminant, progressing to death within hours of symptom onset. Infection may be initiated by nasopharyngeal colonization, which can result in either an asymptomatic carrier state or invasive meningococcal disease. The risk of invasive disease following nasopharyngeal colonization depends on both bacterial virulence factors and host immune defense mechanisms, including the host’s capacity to produce antimeningococcal antibodies and to lyse meningococci by both classic and alternative complement pathways. Individuals with deficiencies of any of the complement components, including properdin, are highly susceptible to meningococcal infections.

Gram-negative bacilli cause meningitis in individuals with chronic and debilitating diseases such as diabetes, cirrhosis, or alcoholism and in those with chronic urinary tract infections. Gram-negative meningitis can also complicate neurosurgical procedures, particularly craniotomy, and head trauma associated with CSF rhinorrhea or otorrhea.

Otitis, mastoiditis, and sinusitis are predisposing and associated conditions for meningitis due to Streptococci sp., gram-negative anaerobes, Staphylococcus aureus, ...

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