Delayed cerebrospinal fluid sterilization, in vitro bactericidal activities, and side effects of selected beta-lactams

Scand J Infect Dis Suppl. 1990:73:31-42.


Ampicillin (or penicillin G) plus chloramphenicol, cefuroxime, ceftriaxone, and cefotaxime have been used in the treatment of bacterial meningitis beyond the neonatal period. Review of recent data from the USA and Europe indicates that delayed CSF sterilization occurs significantly more often with ampicillin/chloramphenicol and cefuroxime than with ceftriaxone and cefotaxime. Delayed CSF sterilization is associated with an increased morbidity and neurological complications. Previously reported in vitro interactions between chloramphenicol and various beta-lactam antibiotics indicate that for bacteria where chloramphenicol is only bacteriostatic, the combination of chloramphenicol with beta-lactams is antagonistic. Killing rates of various beta-lactams were compared against a number of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. Cidal activity of some beta-lactams was inoculum dependent. There was a good correlation between in vitro activity and ability to sterilize CSF. Ceftriaxone is highly protein bound and its use in newborns is discouraged. Diarrhea occurs significantly more often after cefriaxone use than after the use of other agents. Ceftriaxone is uniquely associated with a high frequency of biliary pseudolithiasis which may be symptomatic and can cause measureable morbidity. In selecting the "proper" antimicrobial agent for the treatment of bacterial meningitis considerations should be given to proven clinical efficacy, prompt CSF sterilization, rapid in vitro cidal activity, safety and cost. We recommend cefotaxime as the agent of choice in the treatment of bacterial meningitis.

MeSH terms

  • Ampicillin / adverse effects
  • Ampicillin / pharmacology
  • Ampicillin / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Cefotaxime / adverse effects
  • Cefotaxime / pharmacology
  • Cefotaxime / therapeutic use
  • Ceftriaxone / adverse effects
  • Ceftriaxone / pharmacology
  • Ceftriaxone / therapeutic use
  • Cefuroxime / adverse effects
  • Cefuroxime / pharmacology
  • Cefuroxime / therapeutic use
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / microbiology*
  • Child
  • Chloramphenicol / adverse effects
  • Chloramphenicol / pharmacology
  • Chloramphenicol / therapeutic use
  • Diarrhea / chemically induced
  • Gallbladder Diseases / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Meningitis / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Meningitis / drug therapy
  • Protein Binding
  • Sulbactam / adverse effects
  • Sulbactam / pharmacology
  • Sulbactam / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Chloramphenicol
  • Ceftriaxone
  • Ampicillin
  • Cefotaxime
  • Cefuroxime
  • Sulbactam