Effectiveness of antibiotics in preventing meningococcal disease after a case: systematic review

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To summarise the evidence for the role of antibiotics in preventing further cases of meningococcal disease through chemoprophylaxis given to the index patient, household contacts, and children in day care settings after a single case.


Systematic review.


Studies were identified by searching Embase (1983-2003), Medline (1965-2003), and CAB Health (1973-2003) and by contacting the World Health Organization and the European meningococcal disease surveillance network and examining references of identified papers. The review included all studies with at least 10 cases in which outcomes were compared between treated and untreated groups.

Main outcome measure

Subsequent cases of meningococcal disease 1-30 days after onset of disease in the index patient.


Four observational studies and one small trial met the inclusion criteria. Meta-analysis of studies on chemoprophylaxis given to household contacts showed a significant reduction in risk (risk ratio 0.11, 95% confidence interval 0.02 to 0.58). The number needed to treat to prevent a case was estimated as 218 (121 to 1135). Primary outcome data were not available in studies of chemoprophylaxis given to the index patient: when prophylaxis had not been given, rate of carriage after discharge from hospital was estimated as 3% (0 to 6), probably an underestimate of the true rate. No studies of chemoprophylaxis in day care settings were identified that met the inclusion criteria.


There have been no high quality experimental trials looking at control policies for meningococcal disease. The best available evidence is from retrospective studies. The risk of meningococcal disease in household contacts of a patient can be reduced by an estimated 89% if they take antibiotics known to eradicate meningococcal carriage. Chemoprophylaxis should be recommended for the index patient and all household contacts.

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