Corticosteroids given to children who are suffering from bacterial meningitis do not provide any benefit as far as survival or reduced hospital stays are concerned, a study led by an Indian-origin researchers has said.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges.
Meningitis may develop in response to a number of causes, most prominently bacteria, viruses and other infectious agents, but also physical injury, cancer, or certain drugs.
This finding stands in contrast to previous studies in hospitalized adults, for which corticosteroids dramatically reduced mortality.
"Because of the demonstrated benefits of these drugs in adults, physicians have increasingly been using corticosteroids in children with bacterial meningitis," said study leader Samir S. Shah, M.D., an infectious diseases specialist from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"This study reminds us again that children are not just small adults. We need to consider whether the problems associated with corticosteroid use, such as gastrointestinal bleeding, outweigh any potential benefits," he added.
In the study, the research team analyzed medical records of 2,780 children with bacterial meningitis at 27 U.S. pediatric hospitals from 2001 to 2006.
The median age of the children was nine months. Approximately 9 percent, or 248, of the children studied received corticosteroids, with steroid use doubling during the study period, from under 6 percent of children in 2001 to 12 percent in 2006.
There was no significant difference in mortality nor in time to hospital discharge, between children who received corticosteroids and those who did not.
Overall, unadjusted mortality rates were 6 percent among children receiving corticosteroids, versus 4 percent among those not receiving them. There also was no significant difference in those outcomes between those receiving and not receiving corticosteroids in the subsets of children with meningitis caused by pneumococcal bacteria or by meningococcal bacteria.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.