Objective: To assess the effect of a recent previous visit to a physician on the outcome of meningitis in children.
Design: Evaluation of data from children examined by a physician and sent home, either the previous day or 2 to 4 days before meningitis was diagnosed, and children whose meningitis was diagnosed at once. The patients were examined daily during hospitalization, neurologic examinations were repeated at 2 weeks and 3 and 6 months after discharge, and hearing was assessed 2 or more months after discharge.
Setting: Eighteen pediatric hospitals in Finland from 1984 through 1991.
Population: A total of 325 children aged 3 months to 15 years with bacterial meningitis.
Main outcome measures: Clinical and laboratory findings on admission, recovery during hospitalization, mortality, and neurologic abnormalities at 6 months of follow-up.
Results: In 74% of the patients, meningitis was diagnosed at once, 14% had visited a physician on the previous day, and 11% had seen a physician 2 to 4 days before diagnosis. The group seen 2 to 4 days earlier had a better level of consciousness, less frequent seizures, and more respiratory symptoms and otitis media than the other groups. The cerebrospinal fluid leukocyte count, white blood cell count, and erythrocyte sedimentation rate were highest and the cerebrospinal fluid glucose concentration was lowest in the children who had visited a physician 2 to 4 days earlier, although they also had lower cerebrospinal fluid protein and urine sodium and potassium levels. This group had the most rapid return to normal consciousness. There was no difference in the incidence of hearing impairment or neurologic sequelae. Even the mortality was virtually the same in the three groups: 4%, 4%, and 3% in the "same day," "previous day," and "2 to 4 days earlier" groups, respectively.
Conclusions: Children who had visited a physician the previous day or 2 to 4 days before meningitis was diagnosed did not exhibit an increased frequency of hearing impairment, other neurologic abnormalities, or overall adverse outcome compared with children whose meningitis was diagnosed at once.