A recent study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases has found that there are substantial delays in diagnostic testing and unnecessary treatment for meningitis in hospitals across England, leading to longer hospital stays.
“Ideally, this crucial diagnostic test should be completed within a few hours,” said Dr Fiona McGill, the Institute of Infection and Global Health at the University of Liverpool, UK, who led the research. “It's possible that the four-hour accident and emergency treatment target is creating unintended pressure, leading to key investigations like lumbar puncture being postponed until patients have been admitted to a ward. Additional delays of several days can also occur if samples are sent to offsite laboratories for analysis.”
The study is the first of its kind to examine the incidence, causes and impact of viral meningitis in UK adults. It included more than 1,100 patients with suspected meningitis at 42 hospitals across England between September 2011 and September 2014. More than half of the patients included in the final analysis were diagnosed with meningitis. Of these, more than one-third of cases (231) were caused by a virus, 99 cases (16 per cent) were bacterial, 267 (42 per cent) had an unknown cause, and 41 (six per cent) had other causes identified. Results showed that unnecessary treatment with antivirals was associated with longer hospital stays.
“Improved rapid diagnostic testing so that more patients can have a specific cause determined quickly could reduce unnecessary use of antimicrobials (i.e. both antibiotics and antivirals) and therefore reduce hospital stays and other investigations,” the study authors said.