Lumbar punctures in suspected bacterial meningitis: too many or too few?

J Paediatr Child Health. 1994 Apr;30(2):160-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1754.1994.tb00602.x.


Children aged 1 month to 14 years admitted to the Royal Alexandria Hospital for Children during a 10 month period with suspected meningitis were studied prospectively. The aims were to determine how often lumbar puncture (LP) was delayed or never done, in relation to the outcome of all children, in order to determine the risks of LP and the risks of not doing LP. Of 218 children with suspected meningitis, LP was performed immediately in 195 (89.4%). Meningitis was diagnosed in 49 of these (bacterial 18, viral 31). No child developed cerebral herniation due to immediate LP. There were 11 traumatic taps and two children required repeated attempts. Lumbar puncture was delayed, but performed at a later time in 17 children, of whom three had proven bacterial meningitis, 1 had presumed bacterial meningitis but no organism was detected and 13 had alternative diagnoses. Six children never had an LP, although ventricular cerebrospinal fluid was obtained from two. Four of these six children had presumptive bacterial meningitis, one had tuberculous meningitis presenting with acute hydrocephalus and diagnosed post-mortem, and one had a very poor neurological outcome and no final diagnosis was reached. Of the 27 children with bacterial meningitis, LP was performed immediately in 18, or two-thirds. There were only minor adverse effects of immediate LP. Delayed LP probably resulted in failure to identify the organism in one child with bacterial meningitis, but did not adversely affect outcome in any child. Of the six children in whom LP was never performed, in only one was no final diagnosis reached.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Meningitis, Bacterial / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Meningitis, Viral / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Spinal Puncture* / adverse effects