Anti-inflammatory increases bacterial meningitis survival rates

Dutch researchers recently announced that the use of the anti-inflammatory drug dexamethasone in conjunction with antibiotics increases the chances of surviving bacterial meningitis.

Dr. Diederik van de Beek, a clinical neurologist from the Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam, told Business Week that a recent study he conducted showed that dexamethasone therapy reduces mortality from bacterial meningitis by one-third.

“That's a huge effect,” van de Beek told Business Week. “Normally, the death rate of bacterial meningitis is 30 percent; if you use dexamethasone, it decreases to 20 percent.”

Van de Beek said his team collected data from 357 people who had bacterial meningitis between 2006 and 2009. Of those, he said, 84 percent were given a dose of dexamethasone. He told Business Week that these patients were compared with 352 patients treated for bacterial meningitis between 1998 and 2002 before dexamethasone was routinely given for the infection.

Researchers found that deaths among those given dexamethasone in the 2006 to 2009 study group were 10 percent lower than for those in the earlier study group. Van de Beek also said that hearing loss was almost 10 percent lower for people in the 2006 to 2009 study group.

“If you extrapolate these findings to the U.S., if you treat all patients with bacterial meningitis with dexamethasone, that would save one life every day,” van de Beek told Business Week.

Jeffrey Cirillo, an associate professor of microbial and molecular pathogenesis at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, told Business Week that the study results confirmed previous similar findings.

“These results strongly support the use of dexamethasone in cases of pneumococcal meningitis and offer promise to improve the chances of survival from meningitis, a frequently deadly illness,” Cirillo told Business Week.