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New tool to aid diagnosis of bacterial meningitis in infants

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A new tool has been developed for health professionals wanting to improve their assessment and management of young infants who present with possible bacterial meningitis.

The neonatal e-tool forms part of a teaching package launched by the Meningitis Research Foundation to “better equip” clinicians to rapidly diagnose and treat bacterial meningitis in babies.

“It is clear that better recognition and management is essential”

Paul Heath

The package also includes a lumbar puncture information sheet to help clinicians explain the procedure to parents, and an algorithm to aid the management of bacterial meningitis.

The charity cited research published this year in the journal BMJ Open showing that bacterial meningitis in infants may not be being diagnosed or acted on quickly enough by clinicians.

In the study, which was funded by the foundation, researchers at St George’s University of London found a lack of recognition of the signs and symptoms in both primary care and in hospital.

They also identified delays in starting antibiotics and that, when they were prescribed, the choice of antibiotic did not always follow National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines.

There were also delays in performing lumbar puncture, which was “essential” for correct diagnosis of bacterial meningitis, stated the charity.

It highlighted that young infants were at higher risk of the infection than any other age group and were particularly susceptible to meningitis caused by Group B streptococcal (GBS) bacteria, E. coli or Listeria.

“We hope that it can ultimately improve outcomes for young infants and their families”

Vinny Smith

In addition, the foundation noted that the early symptoms of meningitis could resemble many other less serious childhood illnesses, but a baby ill with meningitis would usually get worse very quickly.

The new e-tool, which the charity said took around 90 minutes to complete, was launched today at its annual conference in London.

Speaking at the event, Professor Paul Heath, from St George’s, said: “There are many challenges we face in defeating meningitis in babies under three months of age.

“Our study highlighted the difficulties in diagnosing this condition, as well as variations in treatment across the UK,” he said.

“It is clear that better recognition and management is essential if lives are to be saved and complications of meningitis minimised,” he added.

Vinny Smith, chief executive of the foundation, said: “With babies being one of the most at-risk groups for bacterial meningitis, we are dedicated to helping improve diagnosis and treatment in this vulnerable age group.

“Research is highlighting why it is so difficult for parents and health professionals alike to recognise the non-specific symptoms in young infants, and more importantly what can be done about it,” he said.

He noted that the St George’s researchers had recommended a “targeted campaign for education and harmonisation of practice”, and that the charity had responded by creating the teaching package.

“The educational package has been piloted by paediatricians and we hope that it can ultimately improve outcomes for young infants and their families,” he added.

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