High risk and low prevalence diseases: Adult bacterial meningitis

Michael J. Pajor, Brit Long, Alex Koyfman, Stephen Y. Liang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Introduction: Acute bacterial meningitis in adults is a rare but serious condition that carries a high rate of morbidity. Objective: This review highlights pearls and pitfalls of acute bacterial meningitis in adults, including presentation, diagnosis, and management in the emergency department (ED) based on current evidence. Discussion: Meningitis encompasses a broad spectrum of disease involving inflammation of the meninges and subarachnoid space. It classically presents with fever, nuchal rigidity, and altered mental status, but this triad is not present in all cases. Up to 95% of patients will have at least two of the following four cardinal symptoms: fever, nuchal rigidity, altered mental status, and headache. The most common bacterial etiologies are S. pneumoniae and N. meningitidis. Cerebrospinal fluid testing obtained by lumbar puncture remains the gold standard in diagnosis. Head computed tomography prior to lumbar puncture may not be necessary in most patients. Empiric treatment consists of vancomycin, ceftriaxone, and dexamethasone. Elevated intracranial pressure should be managed using established neurocritical care strategies. Conclusion: A better understanding of the pearls and pitfalls of acute bacterial meningitis can assist emergency clinicians in pursuing its timely diagnosis and management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-83
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Emergency Medicine
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • Infectious disease
  • Meningitis
  • Neurology


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