Acute bacterial meningitis is more common in resource-poor than resource-rich settings. Survival is dependent on rapid diagnosis and early treatment, both of which are difficult to achieve when laboratory support and antibiotics are scarce. Diagnostic algorithms that use basic clinic and laboratory features to distinguish bacterial meningitis from other diseases can be useful. Analysis of the CSF is essential, and simple techniques can enhance the yield of diagnostic microbiology. Penicillin-resistant and chloramphenicol-resistant bacteria are a considerable threat in resource-poor settings that go undetected if CSF and blood can not be cultured. Generic formulations of ceftriaxone are becoming more affordable and available, and are effective against meningitis caused by penicillin-resistant or chloramphenicol-resistant bacteria. However, infection with Streptococcus pneumoniae with reduced susceptibility to ceftriaxone is reported increasingly, and alternatives are either too expensive (eg, vancomycin) or can not be widely recommended (eg, rifampicin, which is the key drug to treat tuberculosis) in resource-poor settings. Additionally, improved access to affordable antibiotics will not overcome the problems of poor access to hospitals and the fatal consequences of delayed treatment. The future rests with the provision of effective conjugate vaccines against S pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, and Neisseria meningitides to children in the poorest regions of the world. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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