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This chapter is concerned mainly with bacterial infections of the central nervous system (CNS), particularly bacterial meningitis, septic thrombophlebitis, brain abscess, epidural abscess, and subdural empyema. The granulomatous infections of the CNS, notably tuberculosis, syphilis and other spirochetal infections, and certain fungal infections are also discussed in some detail. In addition, consideration is given to infections and infestations caused by rickettsias, protozoans, worms, and tick borne infections.

A number of other important infectious diseases of the nervous system are discussed elsewhere in this book. Viral infections, because of their frequency and importance, are allotted a chapter of their own (see the following Chap. 32). Diseases caused by bacterial exotoxins—diphtheria, tetanus, botulism—are considered with other toxins that affect the nervous system (see Chap. 41). Leprosy, which is essentially a disease of the peripheral nerves, is described in Chap. 43, and trichinosis, mainly a disease of muscle, in Chap. 45.


These infections reach the intracranial structures by one of two pathways, either by hematogenous spread (emboli of bacteria or infected thrombi) or by extension from cranial structures adjacent to the brain (ears, paranasal sinuses, osteomyelitic foci in the skull, penetrating cranial or congenital sinus tracts) (see Durand et al and Thigpen et al for summaries of this subject). In a number of cases, infection is iatrogenic, being introduced in the course of cerebral or spinal surgery, the placement of a ventriculoperitoneal shunt or, rarely, by a lumbar puncture needle. Increasingly, craniospinal infections are nosocomial, that is, acquired in-hospital; in urban hospitals, nosocomial meningitis is now as frequent as the non–hospital-acquired variety as noted in the review by van der Beek and colleagues.

Surprisingly little is known about the mechanisms of hematogenous spread and animal experiments involving the injection of virulent bacteria into the bloodstream have yielded somewhat contradictory results. In most instances of bacteremia or septicemia, the nervous system seems not to be infected; yet sometimes a bacteremia caused by pneumonia or endocarditis is the only apparent predecessor to meningitis. With respect to the formation of brain abscess, cerebral tissue has a notable resistance to infection. Direct injection of virulent bacteria into the brain of an animal seldom results in abscess formation. In fact, this condition has been produced consistently only by injecting culture medium along with the bacteria or by causing necrosis of the tissue at the time bacteria are inoculated. In humans, infarction of brain tissue because of arterial occlusion (thrombosis or embolism) or venous occlusion (thrombophlebitis) may be a common and perhaps necessary antecedent by way of causing of a necrotic nidus.

The mechanism of meningitis and brain abscess from infection of the middle ear and paranasal sinuses is easier to understand. The cranial epidural and subdural spaces are practically never the sites of blood-borne infections, in contrast to the spinal epidural ...

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