Table of Contents  
Year : 2015  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 513-514  

Meningitis following spinal anesthesia

Department of Anaesthesiology, LTMMC and LTMG Hospital, Sion, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication14-Jul-2015

Correspondence Address:
Tejaswini C Jambotkar
Department of Anaesthesiology, 4th Floor, College Building, LTMMC and LTMGH, Sion, Mumbai - 400 022, Maharashtra
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0975-2870.160818

Rights and Permissions

Iatrogenic meningitis is a rare, but potentially fatal condition. We report four cases of meningitis after spinal anesthesia and review the possible etiological factors of post spinal meningitis. An important cause include mainly break in sterile technique with direct introduction of bacteria. However, usually clustering of cases by single anesthesiologist is reported. We report a series of cases in short duration by different anesthesiologists' in different operation theatres of the same hospital even with maximum sterile barrier. The difficulty in differentiation between aseptic and bacterial meningitis is noted. Finally, since delay in the diagnosis may result in morbidity and mortality, it is crucial to rule out rarest of the causes with thorough investigations and high index of suspicion.

Keywords: Etiological factors, meningitis, spinal anesthesia

How to cite this article:
Govardhane BT, Jambotkar TC, Magar JS, Tendolkar BA. Meningitis following spinal anesthesia. Med J DY Patil Univ 2015;8:513-4

How to cite this URL:
Govardhane BT, Jambotkar TC, Magar JS, Tendolkar BA. Meningitis following spinal anesthesia. Med J DY Patil Univ [serial online] 2015 [cited 2021 Mar 7];8:513-4. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Iatrogenic meningitis after spinal anesthesia is an extremely rare but serious complication. It can occur in various settings including spinal anesthesia, diagnostic lumbar puncture, myelography, epidural analgesia and anesthesia, neurological procedures involving spinal canal. The exact incidence of infectious complication associated with epidural and spinal anesthesia is unknown. However several retrospective studies have estimated it as being very low from 0% to 0.04%. [1] Two important causes of post spinal meningitis are breach in aseptic techniques or hematogeneous spread in presence of asymptomatic bacteremia during lumbar puncture. Primary contamination of equipment's and anesthetic drugs as a cause is less likely.

  Case Report Top

We report four cases which developed meningitis after spinal anesthesia was given for surgical procedures. A 24 years female with 27 weeks gestation for cervical encirclage, 60 years female for skin grafting over left thigh, 35 years male for hemorroidectomy and a 26 years female with previous caesarean section lower segment caesarean section (LSCS) for elective LSCS. All the patients were ASA I with no symptoms and signs suggestive of underlying systemic infection. Complete blood count was within normal limits. All cases occurred over a period of 1-week, in different operation theatres by different anesthesiologists. Spinal anesthesia was given under standard strict aseptic precautions which included wearing cap, face mask, sterile gown, sterile hand gloves, cleansing agent (povidone iodine and alcohol) and sterile drape. The spinal needle and drug (hyperbaric 0.5% bupivacaine) used by all the anesthesiologist belonged to the same company and batch.

All the four patients first complained of headache approximately 6-8 h after administration of spinal anasthesia. One patient also developed vomiting. The pregnant patient developed altered sensorium 10 h after spinal anesthesia. The chief complaint headache was not relieved in supine position or with adequate hydration and analgesia. Thus, postdural puncture headache was ruled out and physician reference was taken. Over next 4-6 h all patients developed fever (37.4°C-38°C), neck rigidity and positive Kerning's sign. Therefore, fundoscopy, followed by urgent cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) examination and computed tomography scan was done for all patients. The findings were suggestive of cerebral edema. Fundoscopy did not show any evidence of papilledema. CSF picture was suggestive of bacterial meningitis though Gram-staining and culture was negative. Total white blood cell count was raised, but blood culture was negative. Lumbar puncture showed turbid CSF and revealed the picture shown in [Table 1].
Table 1: Results of CSF examination

Click here to view

On the basis of clinical findings and CSF picture all the patients were strongly suspected to have bacterial meningitis. Treatment in the form of injection vancomycin, ceftriaxone and ampicillin was instituted on emergency basis. All patients rapidly improved with treatment and were discharged after 7 days without any neurological sequelae.

  Discussion Top

Bacterial meningitis is an acute purulent infection within subarachnoid space. The possible causes include break in sterile technique with direct introduction of bacteria, hematogenous spread with microscopic bleeding during spinal anesthesia in septicemic patients and a less likely cause is primary contamination of equipment and anesthesia drugs. [2],[3] Various strains of Streptococcus which are commensals of oral cavity and respiratory tract are the dominant causative organisms although culture may be frequently negative. Most organisms are of low virulence and hence fastidious growth is not seen on routine culture medium but in CSF they multiply rapidly causing full blown bacterial meningitis in 7-24 h. But usually clustering of cases by single anesthesiologist is reported. [4]

Droplet infection from patient itself or medical person and needle contamination from incompletely sterilized skin are major routes of infection. To pinpoint exact source one needs to compare isolates from nasal or nasopharyngeal swab of patient and medical person with that of patients CSF. [5] Thus, a sterile technique including tightly fitting face mask covering mouth and nose is essential.

Meningitis should be a possible differential diagnosis in patient having postdural puncture headache, convulsion or altered neurological status. Suspicion should immediately trigger collection of blood and CSF for culture and analysis. Empirical broad spectrum antimicrobial and adjuvant therapy should be given in an appropriate clinical setting. In a scenario of strong clinical suspicion treatment should not be delayed awaiting for reports.

The etiology of postdural puncture meningitis is very debatable. The hematogenous spread of infection with micro bleeding during spinal anaesthesia is extremely rare. [6] In recent reviews, presence of bacteremia is a relative contraindication to central neuraxial block. [7],[8] Antibiotic prophylaxis in a bacteremic patient is advised before puncture and mandates close observation postoperatively. Every case requires thorough consideration to all etiological factors including equipment, drug, and technique. Modern packaging for equipment and drug has almost eliminated these issues. But still sporadic cases like ours suggest need for attention and reevaluation of causative factors.

Purulent CSF but no growth on culture may be because of prior administration of antibiotic or other causes like viral or aseptic meningitis. Aseptic meningitis can either be due to chemical contamination of CSF or less widely appreciated systemic drug administration. nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug and H 2 antagonists cause aseptic meningitis due to acute hypersensitivity reaction. [9] Signs and symptoms such as headache, convulsion or altered neurological status appear typically from few hours to weeks. Fever is common. CSF picture is same as bacterial meningitis except that the CSF glucose is normal. Symptoms worsen with continued drug administration, but most patients recover after offending medication is stopped. Definitive diagnosis requires re-administration of drug.

In our cases, there was no significant drug history which ruled out this possibility in patients with the mentioned CSF picture though the sugar was normal.

Cerebrospinal fluid glucose concentrations <40 mg/dL are abnormal. Use of the CSF/serum glucose ratio corrects for hyperglycemia that may mask a relative decrease in the CSF glucose concentration. This ratio of <0.6 suggests low CSF glucose concentration. A ratio <0.4 is highly suggestive of bacterial meningitis but may be seen in fungal, tuberculous, and carcinomatous meningitis. The CSF glucose concentration reaches equilibrium with blood glucose levels in 30 min to several hours. [10]

We suspected bacterial meningitis based on the clinical signs and positive CSF picture except for glucose, Gram-stain and culture. Next we suspected contaminated drug, equipment, cleansing agent as there were no clustering of cases with single anesthesiologist or single operation theatre and all cases were done with maximum sterile barrier precaution. Microbiological investigation (culture) of drug, needle, cleansing agent showed no evidence of micro-organism growth. However after removing the particular batch of drug and needle from use no further cases of meningitis were reported.

Though iatrogenic meningitis cases have been reported in the past but we report a rare example of iatrogenic meningitis due to infected batch of a drug or a needle. Thus, we conclude that bacterial meningitis is rare but a serious complication. It requires high index of suspicion for diagnosis. Mortality is high but can be prevented with early diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

  References Top

Horlocker TT, McGregor DG, Matsushige DK, Schroeder DR, Besse JA. A retrospective review of 4767 consecutive spinal anesthetics: Central nervous system complications. Perioperative Outcomes Group. Anesth Analg 1997;84:578-84.  Back to cited text no. 1
Berman RS, Eisele JH. Bacteremia, spinal anesthesia, and development of meningitis. Anesthesiology 1978;48:376-7.  Back to cited text no. 2
Blackmore TK, Morley HR, Gordon DL. Streptococcus mitis-induced bacteremia and meningitis after spinal anesthesia. Anesthesiology 1993;78:592-4.  Back to cited text no. 3
Baer ET. Iatrogenic meningitis: The case for face masks. Clin Infect Dis 2000;31:519-21.  Back to cited text no. 4
Sandkovsky U, Mihu MR, Adeyeye A, De Forest PM, Nosanchuk JD. Iatrogenic meningitis in an obstetric patient after combined spinal-epidural analgesia: Case report and review of the literature. South Med J 2009;102:287-90.  Back to cited text no. 5
Wedel DJ, Horlocker TT. Regional anesthesia in the febrile or infected patient. Reg Anesth Pain Med 2006;31:324-33.  Back to cited text no. 6
Kuczkowski KM. A febrile parturient: Choice of anaesthesia. South Afr J Anaesth Analg 2002;8:6-20.  Back to cited text no. 7
Horlocker TT, Wedel DJ. Infectious complications of regional anesthesia. Best Pract Res Clin Anaesthesiol 2008;22:451-75.  Back to cited text no. 8
Burke D, Wildsmith JA. Meningitis after spinal anaesthesia. Br J Anaesth 1997;78:635-6.  Back to cited text no. 9
Roos KL, Tyler KL. Meningitis, encephalitis, brain abscess and empyema. In: Pauci AS, editor. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 18 th ed. New York: McGraw Hill; 2012. p. 3414.  Back to cited text no. 10


  [Table 1]


    Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
 Related articles
    Access Statistics
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

  In this article
Case Report
Article Tables

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded461    
    Comments [Add]    

Recommend this journal