Background: Bacterial meningitis remains a source of substantial morbidity and mortality in childhood. During the last decades gradual changes have been observed in the epidemiology of bacterial meningitis, related to the introduction of new polysaccharide and conjugate vaccines. The study presents an overview of the epidemiological patterns of acute bacterial meningitis in a tertiary children 's hospital during a 32-year period, using information from a disease registry. Moreover, it discusses the contribution of communicable disease registries in the study of acute infectious diseases.
Methods: In the early 1970s a Meningitis Registry (MR) was created for patients admitted with meningitis in Aghia Sofia Children's Hospital in Athens. The MR includes demographic, clinical and laboratory data as well as treatment, complications and outcome of the patients. In 2000 a database was created and the collected data were entered, analyzed and presented in three chronological periods: A (1974-1984), B (1985-1994) and C (1995-2005).
Results: Of the 2,477 cases of bacterial meningitis registered in total, 1,146 cases (46.3%) were classified as "probable" and 1,331 (53.7%) as "confirmed" bacterial meningitis. The estimated mean annual Incidence Rate (IR) was 16.9/100,000 for bacterial meningitis, 8.9/100,000 for Neisseria meningitidis, 1.3/100,000 for Streptococcus pneumoniae, 2.5/100,000 for Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) before vaccination and 0.4/100,000 for Hib after vaccination. Neisseria meningitis constituted the leading cause of childhood bacterial meningitis for all periods and in all age groups. Hib was the second most common cause of bacterial meningitis before the introduction of Hib conjugate vaccine, in periods A and B. The incidence of bacterial meningitis due to Streptococcus pneumoniae was stable. The long-term epidemiological pattern of Neisseria meningitidis appears in cycles of approximately 10 years, confirmed by a significant rise of IR in period C. The Case Fatality Rate (CFR) from all causes was 3.8%, while higher CFR were estimated for Streptococcus pneumoniae (7.5%, RR=2.1, 95% CI 1.2-3.7) and Neisseria meningitidis (4.8%, RR=1.7, 95% CI 1.1-2.5) compared to other pathogens. Moreover, overall CFR varied significantly among the three time periods (p = 0.0015), and was estimated to be higher in period C.
Conclusion: By using the MR we were able to delineate long-term changes in the epidemiology of bacterial meningitis. Thus the MR proved to be a useful tool in the study and the prevention of communicable diseases in correlation with prevention strategies, such as vaccinations.