Objectives: To test the hypothesis that serum procalcitonin (PCT) levels are elevated in patients with bacterial meningitis and remain within normal limits in patients with abacterial meningitis.
Design: Prospective case series.
Setting: Tertiary care center.
Patients: A total of 30 patients (13 men and 17 women) with a mean age of 52 yrs, having acute bacterial (n = 16) or abacterial (n = 14) meningitis.
Interventions: Blood and cerebrospinal fluid samples.
Measurements and main results: Patients with abacterial meningitis were younger and had a shorter hospital stay. Of 16 patients with bacterial meningitis, 14 were in a septic condition at admission, but only 5 of 14 patients with abacterial meningitis were in a septic condition at admission. At discharge, 12 patients were without symptoms, 9 patients were moderately disabled, and 9 were severely disabled. No patient died. At admission, PCT, C-reactive protein, white blood cell and cerebrospinal fluid leukocyte counts, and cerebrospinal fluid protein and lactate levels were higher and the serum/cerebrospinal fluid glucose quotient was lower in patients with bacterial meningitis as compared with those with abacterial meningitis (p < .001). PCT was the variable with the highest specificity for bacterial infections (100%), but there were false-negative findings in five patients with bacterial meningitis (a sensitivity of 69%). Persistently elevated or increasing PCT levels after 2 days were associated with an unfavorable clinical course.
Conclusions: Our results indicate that PCT is a useful additional variable for distinguishing bacterial from abacterial meningitis. In patients with abacterial meningitis, PCT levels do not increase even in cases of viral sepsis. Elevated PCT levels indicate a bacterial origin with high specificity, but false-negative results can occur.