Children still die or suffer permanent neurologic sequelae as a result of bacterial meningitis. Prompt diagnosis and aggressive management are the goals, but early signs of meningitis are often subtle and nonspecific and, therefore, may be recognized only in retrospect. The physician must identify among the many febrile children seen every day in office practice—most of whom have spontaneously resolving illnesses usually caused by viruses—the few children who have serious bacterial infection requiring early intervention. No single test or battery of tests replaces the clinical acumen of the physician in identifying the child with early signs of bacterial meningitis. Because of controversies about diagnosis and treatment of meningitis voiced in various forums, including the courtroom, the Task Force on Diagnosis and Management of Meningitis has been asked by the Executive Board of the American Academy of Pediatrics to prepare a report on the causes, diagnosis, management, and outcome of meningitis in infants and children.

This task force selected for discussion issues of current relevance and controversy in the diagnosis and treatment of bacterial and nonbacterial meningitis. Many other aspects of meningitis are discussed elsewhere. Commentaries on the prevention of disease by chemoprophylaxis (antimicrobial agents) or immunoprophylaxis (vaccines) have been prepared by the Committee on Infectious Diseases of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In addition the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta) publishes recommendations on vaccine usage and chemoprophylaxis formulated by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. These resources are of value to the practitioner who cares for children and needs information on optimal measures for the treatment and prevention of meningitis.

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