Background: Before the introduction of the conjugate vaccines, Haemophilus influenzae type b was the major cause of bacterial meningitis in the United States, and meningitis was primarily a disease of infants and young children. We describe the epidemiologic features of bacterial meningitis five years after the H. influenzae type b conjugate vaccines were licensed for routine immunization of infants.
Methods: Data were collected from active, population-based surveillance for culture-confirmed meningitis and other invasive bacterial disease during 1995 in laboratories serving all the acute care hospitals in 22 counties of four states (total population, more than 10 million). The rates were compared with those for 1986 obtained by similar surveillance.
Results: On the basis of 248 cases of bacterial meningitis in the surveillance areas, the rates of meningitis (per 100,000) for the major pathogens in 1995 were Streptococcus pneumoniae, 1.1; Neisseria meningitidis, 0.6; group B streptococcus, 0.3; Listeria monocytogenes, 0.2; and H. influenzae, 0.2. Group B streptococcus was the predominant pathogen among newborns, N. meningitidis among children 2 to 18 years old, and S. pneumoniae among adults. Pneumococcal meningitis had the highest case fatality rate (21 percent) and in 36 percent of cases was caused by organisms that were not susceptible to penicillin. From these data, we estimate that 5755 cases of bacterial meningitis were caused by these five pathogens in the United States in 1995, as compared with 12,920 cases in 1986, a reduction of 55 percent. The median age of persons with bacterial meningitis increased greatly, from 15 months in 1986 to 25 years in 1995, largely as a result of a 94 percent reduction in the number of cases of H. influenzae meningitis.
Conclusions: Because of the vaccine-related decline in meningitis due to H. influenzae type b, bacterial meningitis in the United States is now a disease predominantly of adults rather than of infants and young children.