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IMPORTANCE: Late-onset meningitis (LOM) has been associated with adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes in children born extremely preterm.
OBJECTIVE: To report the incidence of LOM during birth hospitalization and neurodevelopmental outcomes at 18 to 26 months' corrected age.
DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This cohort study is a secondary analysis of a multicenter prospective cohort of children born at 22 to 26 weeks' gestation between 2003 and 2017 with follow-up from 2004 to 2021. The study was conducted at 25 Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Neonatal Research Network centers.
EXPOSURES: Culture-confirmed LOM.
MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Incidence and microbiology of LOM (2003-2017); lumbar puncture (LP) performance in late-onset sepsis (LOS) evaluations (2011-2017); composite outcome of death or neurodevelopmental impairment (NDI; 2004-2021).
RESULTS: Among 13 372 infants (median [IQR] gestational age, 25.4 [24.4-26.1] weeks; 6864 [51%] boys), LOM was diagnosed in 167 (1%); LOS without LOM in 4564 (34%); and neither LOS nor LOM in 8641 (65%). The observed incidence of LOM decreased from 2% (95% CI, 1%-3%) in 2003 to 0.4% (95% CI, 0.7%-1.0%) in 2017 (P < .001). LP performance in LOS evaluations decreased from 36% (95% CI, 33%-40%) in 2011 to 24% (95% CI, 21%-27%) in 2017 (P < .001). Among infants with culture-confirmed LOS, LP performance decreased from 58% (95% CI, 51%-65%) to 45% (95% CI, 38%-51%; P = .008). LP performance varied by center among all LOS evaluations (10%-59%, P < .001) and among those with culture-confirmed LOS (23%-79%, P < .001). LOM occurred in the absence of concurrent LOS in 27 of 167 cases (16%). The most common LOM isolates were coagulase-negative Staphylococcus (98 [59%]), Candida albicans (38 [23%]), and Escherichia coli (27 [16%]). Death or NDI occurred in 22 of 46 children (48%) with LOM due to coagulase-negative Staphylococcus, 43 of 67 (64%) due to all other bacterial pathogens, and 26 of 33 (79%) due to fungal pathogens. The adjusted relative risk of death or NDI was increased among children with LOM (aOR, 1.53; 95% CI, 1.04-2.25) and among those with LOS without LOM (aOR, 1.41; 95% CI, 1.29-1.54) compared with children with neither infection.
CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: In this cohort study, LP was performed with decreasing frequency, and the observed incidence of LOM also decreased. Both LOM and LOS were associated with increased risk of death or NDI; risk varied by LOM pathogen. The full association of LOM with outcomes of children born extremely preterm may be underestimated by current diagnostic practices.