Study hypothesis: The clinical features of children treated with oral antibiotics before the diagnosis of bacterial meningitis differ from those who receive no antibiotics.
Design: Retrospective case series.
Setting: University medical center.
Participants: Two hundred fifty-eight children 24 months old or younger with bacterial meningitis hospitalized during a 12-year period. Eighty-three children were treated with oral antibiotics before the diagnosis of meningitis, and 175 children were not.
Methods: The emergency department chart and hospital records were reviewed for presenting demographic, historical, physical examination, and laboratory features. Clinical features of pretreated and untreated patients were compared.
Results: Pretreated children demonstrated less frequent temperature of 38.3 C or higher, altered mental status and a longer duration of symptoms before diagnosis, with more frequent vomiting; ear, nose, and throat infections; and physician visits in the week before detection of meningitis (P less than .05 for all comparisons). There was no difference in incidence of upper respiratory symptoms, seizures, nuchal rigidity, Kernig's and Brudzinski's signs, focal neurologic signs, mortality, and length of hospitalization between groups.
Conclusion: Clinical features of children who have taken antibiotics before the detection of meningitis differ significantly from those who have not undergone antibiotic therapy. Physicians should be aware of these differences when evaluating young children on antibiotics for the possibility of meningitis.