Does this child have bacterial meningitis? A systematic review of clinical prediction rules for children with suspected bacterial meningitis

J Emerg Med. 2013 Oct;45(4):508-19. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2013.03.042. Epub 2013 Aug 2.


Background: Acute meningitis is a relatively common phenomenon in children. Identifying which children are most likely to have bacterial meningitis vs. self-limiting aseptic meningitis is important, as these children require investigation and antibiotic treatment.

Objective: Our aim was to systematically identify and review the quality and performance of published clinical prediction rules (CPRs) for children with suspected bacterial meningitis.

Methods: Medline and Embase were searched for CPRs involving children 0-18 years of age with suspected bacterial meningitis, with cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) culture used as the reference diagnostic standard. CPR quality was assessed using 17 previously published items. CPR performance was evaluated using sensitivity, negative likelihood ratio, and the treatment frequency that would result if the rule was used.

Results: Eleven studies involving 6675 children with acute meningitis fulfilled all inclusion criteria and were entered in the study. They all describe the derivation or validation of six unique CPRs. A rigorously developed, high-performing, and well-validated CPR ready for clinical use to guide which children with suspected bacterial meningitis should be hospitalized and treated with intravenous antibiotics and which can be safely discharged home was not identified. Areas for quality improvement for future CPR studies include prospective validation using standardized inclusion criteria, adequate blinding, predictor reproducibility assessment, and meticulous follow-up of outcomes. The Bacterial Meningitis Score had the highest quality and performance and is the best candidate for prospective validation.

Conclusions: Until consistently high methodological quality and diagnostic performance are demonstrated through prospective validation, caution is warranted in the routine clinical use of existing CPRs for children with suspected bacterial meningitis.

Keywords: clinical prediction rule; decision trees; meningitis; multivariate analysis; predictive value of tests.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Decision Support Techniques*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Meningitis, Bacterial / diagnosis*
  • Research Design / standards*
  • Validation Studies as Topic