Background: Neonatal meningitis is an important cause of morbidity in sub-Saharan Africa and requires urgent empiric treatment with parenteral administered antibiotics. Here we describe the etiology, antimicrobial susceptibility and suitability of the World Health Organization first-line recommended antibiotics (penicillin and gentamicin) for bacterial meningitis in young infants in Malawi.
Methods: We reviewed all cerebrospinal fluid samples received from infants ≤2 months of age with clinically suspected meningitis between January 1, 2002, and December 31, 2008, at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi.
Results: We identified 259 culture-positive isolates from 259 infants ≤2 months of age. Sixty isolates were from neonates ≤7 days old, in whom the most common pathogens were Group B Streptococcus (27/60; 45.0%), Streptococcus pneumoniae (13/60; 21.7%) and nontyphoidal Salmonella enterica (7/60; 11.7%). One hundred and ninety one isolates were from young infants who were >7 days and ≤2 months of age. In this group, the most common isolates were S. pneumoniae (80/191; 41.9%), Group B Streptococcus (38/191; 19.9%) and nontyphoidal Salmonella enterica (34/191; 17.8%). More isolates were susceptible to ceftriaxone than to the combination of penicillin and gentamicin (218/220; 99.1% vs. 202/220; 91.8%, Fisher’s exact test P = 0.006). In particular, Gram-negative isolates were significantly more susceptible to ceftriaxone than to gentamicin (72/74; 97.3% vs. 63/74; 85.1%, Fisher’s exact test P = 0.020). Penicillin and gentamicin provided less coverage for Gram-negative than Gram-positive isolates (74/86; 86.0% vs. 155/163; 95.1%, χ2 = 6.24, P = 0.012).
Conclusions: In view of these results, the World Health Organization recommendations for empiric penicillin and gentamicin for suspected neonatal meningitis should be reevaluated.