Bacterial meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa is predominantly caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, is often associated with HIV co-infection and mortality rates are double those seen in better resourced settings.
To investigate the cause of this excessive mortality we quantified the pneumococcal DNA load and six common pro-inflammatory cytokines in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of Malawian adults with culture proven pneumococcal meningitis and correlated the results to clinical parameters and outcome. There are currently no published data relating bacterial load to outcome in adults with pneumococcal meningitis.
The mean age of patients was 32 years, 82% were HIV infected and 49% had died by day 40. CSF bacterial loads were high (median 6.5 × 10(5) copies/ml CSF) and there was no significant variation in bacterial load between survivors and non-survivors. All pro-inflammatory CSF cytokines were elevated in the CSF, with no clinically important differences between survivors and non-survivors. HIV status did not affect the CSF bacterial load or cytokine response.
Mortality from pneumococcal meningitis in adults in sub-Saharan Africa is not related to pneumococcal bacterial load. More research is needed to understand the very high mortality from meningitis in this region.