Group B Strep is Still Main Cause of Bacterial Meningitis in Newborns

Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is still the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in newborns, concludes a seven-year French study in the March issue of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.

Group B strep remains predominant despite the recent introduction of GBS screening for women near delivery, according to the new report, led by Dr. Jean Gaschignard Hôpital Antoine-Béclère, Clamart, France. However, the situation is different for preterm infantswho are at higher risk of death, regardless of the cause of their meningitis.

Drawing on information from 60 percent of French pediatric wards from 2001 through 2007, the researchers identified 444 infants who were diagnosed with bacterial meningitis during the first 28 days of life. About two-thirds of cases were "late onset," occurring at least five days after birth. The remaining one-third were "early onset," occurring in the first four days (usually the first day).

The most common cause was GBS, which accounted for nearly 60 percent of cases. The next most common, about 30 percent, was Escherichia coli (E. coli)a type of intestinal bacteria. In early-onset meningitis, GBS was even more common, accounting for more than three-fourths of cases. Infants who had seizures were also more likely to be infected with GBS.

The exception was preterm infants, who were more likely to be infected with E. coli: 45 percent of cases, compared to 32 percent for GBS. The rate of E. coli infection was even higher, 54 percent, in very preterm infants.

Overall, 13 percent of newborns with bacterial meningitis died. For preterm infants or those who were small for gestational age, the mortality rate increased to 25 percent.

The cooperative study was performed by the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Group of the French Pediatric Society to gain insights into the rates, causes, treatment, and outcomes of newborn bacterial meningitis in France. Over the past decade, hospitals in France and other developed countries began giving preventive antibiotics during the last weeks of pregnancy (intrapartum antibiotic prophylaxis) to mothers colonized with GBS.

This raised concerns that other causes of bacterial meningitis might become more common, or that meningitis caused by GBS might shift from early-onset to late-onset cases. "Nevertheless, at the dawn of the 21st century, GBS remains the dominant cause of neonatal bacterial meningitis in developed countries such as France," Gaschignard and co-authors write.