Lancet. 2021 Jul 22:S0140-6736(21)00883-7. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(21)00883-7. Online ahead of print.
Progress has been made in the prevention and treatment of community-acquired bacterial meningitis during the past three decades but the burden of the disease remains high globally. Conjugate vaccines against the three most common causative pathogens (Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis, and Haemophilus influenzae) have reduced the incidence of disease, but with the replacement by non-vaccine pneumococcal serotypes and the emergence of bacterial strains with reduced susceptibility to antimicrobial treatment, meningitis continues to pose a major health challenge worldwide. In patients presenting with bacterial meningitis, typical clinical characteristics (such as the classic triad of neck stiffness, fever, and an altered mental status) might be absent and cerebrospinal fluid examination for biochemistry, microscopy, culture, and PCR to identify bacterial DNA are essential for the diagnosis. Multiplex PCR point-of-care panels in cerebrospinal fluid show promise in accelerating the diagnosis, but diagnostic accuracy studies to justify routine implementation are scarce and randomised, controlled studies are absent. Early administration of antimicrobial treatment (within 1 hour of presentation) improves outcomes and needs to be adjusted according to local emergence of drug resistance. Adjunctive dexamethasone treatment has proven efficacy beyond the neonatal age but only in patients from high-income countries. Further progress can be expected from implementing preventive measures, especially the development of new vaccines, implementation of hospital protocols aimed at early treatment, and new treatments targeting checkpoints of the inflammatory cascade.