Community-acquired acute meningitis and encephalitis: a narrative review

Miles H Beaman
Med J Aust 2018; 209 (10): . || doi: 10.5694/mja17.01073
Published online: 15 October 2018



  • Meningitis and encephalitis are medical emergencies. Patients need prompt evaluation and immediate empiric therapy to reduce the likelihood of fatal outcomes and chronic neurological sequelae.
  • Conjugate bacterial vaccines have significantly reduced the incidence of bacterial meningitis, especially in children.
  • As the results of changes in patterns of bacterial drug sensitivity, ceftriaxone is now part of the recommended empiric treatment for bacterial meningitis and should be administered as early as possible.
  • Neuroimaging delays the treatment of meningitis and is not needed in most cases.
  • Adjunctive corticosteroid therapy is of benefit for many patients with meningitis and should be initiated in most adults before antibiotic therapy.
  • Molecular testing can assist the specific diagnosis of encephalitis and should be based on the exposure history and geographic risk factors relevant to the patient, but non-infectious causes of encephalitis are also common.
  • Empiric therapy for encephalitis should be directed at the most frequently identified infectious pathogen, herpes simplex virus type 1 (ie, intravenous aciclovir).
  • Vaccines can protect against the major pathogens of childhood infections (measles, mumps, rubella, polio, varicella viruses), influenza viruses, and exotic pathogens that cause meningitis and encephalitis (rabies, Japanese encephalitis, dengue, yellow fever, tick-borne encephalitis viruses, Mycobacterium tuberculosis).


  • Miles H Beaman

  • Western Diagnostic Pathology, Perth, WA


Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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