Management of children with aseptic meningitis in the emergency department

Yehezkel Waisman*, Ytschak Lotem, Michal Hemmo, Tova Wietzen, Ben Zion Garty, Marc Mimouni

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Objective: To review the emergency department management of children with aseptic meningitis and compare the clinical features, laboratory findings, and short-term follow-up of those who were hospitalized or discharged to determine guidelines for discharge. Design: Retrospective chart review study. Setting: Emergency department of an inner-city teaching, level III, children's hospital during an outbreak of aseptic meningitis from, March through December 1993. Methods: The medical records of children ≤18 years of age diagnosed in the emergency department with aseptic meningitis after lumbar puncture were retrospectively reviewed and analyzed. Thirty-four parameters were recorded for each child including demographic (2), epidemiologic (5), clinical (2), laboratory (10), and short-term follow-up data (5). Results: Of the 158 eligible patients, 99 (62.7%) were hospitalized, and 59 (37.3%) were discharged. Compared to the hospitalized group, children who were discharged were significantly older (5.7 years vs. 4.7 years, P < 0.05) and experienced a more benign course, with lower rates of headache (54.7 vs. 85.7%, P < 0.05), vomiting (38.2 vs. 69.7%, P < 0.05), and irritability (1.8 vs. 8.1%, P < 0.05). They also had significantly (P < 0.05) lower mean peripheral and cerebrospinal fluid leukocyte counts (13,233 vs. 11,498/mm3 and 293.91 vs. 105.29/mm3, respectively). Interestingly, 30 (50.8%) of children in the discharged group had over 50% polymorphonuclears in their cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) cell count. The hospitalization rate during the day was significantly (P < 0.05) lower than that for the evening and night shifts (51.5 vs. 66.7%, respectively). In the discharged group, symptoms of headache, fever, and vomiting resolved after an average of 3.05 days, 2.25 days, and 1.3 days, respectively. The average hospitalization time was 3.5 days. There were no significant complications in either group. More important, in neither group were there any misdiagnoses of bacterial meningitis as aseptic meningitis. During the study period, the ambulatory management of the 59 patients cost $51,625 less than the hospitalization of an equal number of children. Conclusion: It is feasible, clinically safe and less costly to treat a subgroup of children with aseptic meningitis in an ambulatory setting. Although absolute criteria for ambulatory follow-up could not be defined, age >1 year, a nontoxic clinical appearance, normal white blood cell count, mild cerebrospinal fluid pleocytosis (even with a high percentage of polymorphonuclear cells), negative CSF Gram stain, and a reliable family setting could serve as guidelines for decision-making regarding emergency department discharge. Further prospective research is needed to better specify these criteria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)314-317
Number of pages4
JournalPediatric Emergency Care
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1999


  • Ambulatory care
  • Aseptic meningitis
  • Hospitalization
  • Management
  • Meningitis


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