Skip to Main Content

We have a new app!

Take the Access library with you wherever you go—easy access to books, videos, images, podcasts, personalized features, and more.

Download the Access App here: iOS and Android


An otherwise healthy 29-year-old man is brought in to the emergency department (ED) because of 2 days of headache, flu-like symptoms, fever, and change in sensorium. On arrival at the ED his vital signs were: temperature 103.3°F, heart rate 138 bpm, respiratory rate 24 to 32 breaths/min, blood pressure 88/48 mm Hg, saturation 88% (room air), and Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) 10. The patient's general examination revealed a patient in mild distress, injected conjunctivae, erythematous throat, pallor without cyanosis, petechial rash in lower extremities, nuchal rigidity, and normal cardiac and lung examination. Abdomen was mildly tender but no peritoneal signs were elicited. He was stuporous but arousable to loud voice and strong painful stimulation, he was able to follow some simple commands but inconsistently. Cranial nerves were normal and fundus did not show papilledema. He was localizing briskly with the upper extremities and withdrawing appropriately with both lower extremities. Reflexes were three-fourths throughout. A Foley catheter was inserted, obtaining only 10 mL of dark urine.

What are the initial steps for the management of this patient?

This patient's clinical presentation indicates an infection of the central nervous system (CNS) and systemic compromise, as signs of sepsis and septic shock are evident by the initial assessment performed in the ED. The initial evaluation of patients with a suspected CNS infection should include a detailed clinical history, assessment of epidemiologic factors, risk factors for infection, and medical comorbidities. Initial neurologic assessment provides important prognostic information and allows for comparison of serial neurologic examinations. This patient should be isolated in the ED, and droplet precautions should be maintained until a final etiologic diagnosis is made. Following initial assessment and determination of a potential CNS infection, initial steps in the management of this patient should include an evaluation of the ABCs (airway, breathing, and circulation), assessment of the hemodynamic status, collection of blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples, and initiation of appropriate antimicrobial therapy. Patients with suspected meningitis who present with abnormal mental status or neurologic deficits, especially those with a GCS of 12 or less, require intensive care unit (ICU) admission for observation (Table 7-1).

Table 7-1.Indications for ICU Admission


Rapid neurologic deterioration and ensuing loss of consciousness with impairment of reflexes that maintain the airway mandate permanent airway control (Table 7-2).1 Failure to recognize imminent airway loss may result in complications such as aspiration, hypoxemia, and hypercapnia. Preferred ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.