KEY POINTS

  • An enzyme in the baby's meningitis made the bacteria resistant to medication
  • The infant’s condition improved after being given ceftriaxone for seven days
  • Even though this case’s outcome was positive, doctors highlighted the need to further look into antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Medical professionals suspect antibiotic-resistant bacteria played a major role in interfering with a baby's meningitis cure. 

Doctors treating the child at the Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C., found an enzyme in the baby's meningitis that made the bacteria resistant to medication normally administered to patients with similar conditions, US News and World Report revealed.

The case raised concerns among medical professionals about drug resistance in the bacteria that caused the infection. Researchers, who studied the case, said it could potentially change procedures in laboratories and clinics across the world.

Under normal circumstances, when doctors suspect the development of meningitis in children, they typically would administer the broad-spectrum antibiotic ceftriaxone. This antibiotic acts against an extensive range of disease-causing bacteria. After lab tests and doctors are certain about the meningitis organism, they then prescribe penicillin or ampicillin for the patient. As a precautionary measure, ciprofloxacin is also administered to those who came in close contact with the patient.

In the case of the baby admitted at Children's National, the five-month-old was taken to emergency room of the hospital by her parents after she had fever and congestion for six days. Doctors discovered there was an enzyme in the baby's meningitis that made the bacteria resistant, not only to ampicillin and penicillin but also to ciprofloxacin.

Hospital officials decided to send samples of the resistant bacteria to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as other health agencies for comparison with other samples.

"These bacteria wouldn't have been susceptible to the common antibiotics that we would normally use for this infection, so it's entirely possible that the infections caused by these bacteria could have been treated inappropriately if doctors used the standard protocol," said Dr. Gillian Taormina, a fellow in pediatric infectious diseases and co-author of the research, a hospital news release revealed.

Taormina said after giving the baby ceftriaxone for seven days, her condition improved. The infant's relatives and other contacts, on the other hand, were given the antibiotic rifampin.

While the outcome of this particular case is good, it highlights the growing concern about antibiotic resistance in meningitis infections. Taormina and her co-author, Joseph Campos, the hospital's Infectious Diseases Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory director, said the increasing volume of antibiotic-resistant bacteria necessitates the need for close cooperation between microbiology labs and infectious disease doctors. They published their report online in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society on Aug. 3.