Dexamethasone treatment for bacterial meningitis in children and adults

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Four hundred twenty-nine patients with bacterial meningitis were assigned on a nonselective alternating basis into one of two therapeutic regimens. Patients in Group I received dexamethasone in addition to standard antibacterial chemotherapy of ampicillin and chloramphenicol whereas those in Group II received antibacterial chemotherapy alone. Dexamethasone was given intramuscularly (8 mg to children younger than 12 years and 12 mg to adults every 12 hours for 3 days). Both treatment groups were comparable with regard to age, sex, duration of symptoms and state of consciousness at the time of hospitalization.A significant reduction in the case fatality rate (P < 0.01) was observed in patients with pneumococcal meningitis receiving dexamethasone; only 7 of 52 patients died compared with 22 of 54 patients not receiving dexamethasone. A reduction in the overall neurologic sequelae (hearing impairment and paresis) was observed in patients receiving dexamethasone. This reduction was significant only in patients with Streptococcus pneumoniae meningitis; none of the 45 surviving patients receiving steroids had hearing loss whereas 4 of 32 patients not receiving dexamethasone had severe hearing loss (P < 0.05). No significant difference was observed between the two groups with regard to time for patients to become afebrile or to regain consciousness or in the mean admission and 24− to 36-hour cerebrospinal fluid leukocyte count, glucose or protein content.

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