Characteristics and outcome of spontaneous bacterial meningitis in patients with cancer compared to patients without cancer

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Abstract

In cancer patients, who are frequently immunocompromised, bacterial meningitis (BM) can be a severe complication, with a different presentation, etiology, and course, compared to patients without cancer. Our objective is to compare the characteristics and outcomes of BM in patients with and without cancer. A single-center, prospective observational cohort study, conducted between 1982 and 2012, in a tertiary university hospital in Barcelona (Spain). The main outcome measure is in-hospital mortality. We evaluated 659 episodes of BM; 97 (15%) had active cancer. Patients with malignancies were older (median 63 (interquartile range [IQR] 24) vs 52 [IQR 42] years, P < .001) and more often had a Charlson comorbidity score of ≥3 (51% vs 11%, P < .001). The classic meningitis triad (35% vs 50%, P = .05), fever (91% vs 96%, P = .03), neck stiffness (58% vs 78%, P < .001), headache (63% vs 77%) P = .003), and rash (7% vs 30%, P < .001) were less frequent. There was a longer interval between admission and antibiotic therapy (median 5 [IQR 14] vs 3 [IQR 6] hours, P < .001). Listeria meningitis was the commonest cause of BM (29%) and was more frequent in cancer than noncancer (8%, P < .001) patients, whereas meningococcal meningitis was much less frequent (4% vs 36%, P < .001). Overall mortality was higher in patients with cancer (31% vs 16%, P < .001), although cancer was not associated with an unfavorable outcome in the multivariate analysis (odds ratio 1.825, P = .07). Patients with meningitis and cancer are older and have more subtle clinical manifestations than patients without cancer. Listeria monocytogenes is the predominant pathogen and mortality is higher in cancer patients.

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