Adjunctive Therapies in Bacterial Meningitis


A 42 year old female with type 2 diabetes presented to hospital with fevers, malaise and headache. She had become unwell 7 days earlier with coryzal symptoms, feverishness, and cough with green sputum. On examination she was unwell and intermittently drowsy but gas exchange was adequate and she was haemodynamically stable with lactate 1.5 units. Temperature was 39.6oC and glucose was 15.8 units. Chest x-ray showed bibasal consolidation. CRP was 35 units and white cell count was 12.9. She received ceftriaxone 2 g, clarithromycin 500 mg, intravenous crystalloid 1000 mL and an insulin sliding scale.

One hour after admission the patient deteriorated with GCS 6 and non-purposeful shaking movements of the right arm and leg, which resolved with diazepam 5 mg intravenously. Her airway became partially obstructed despite nasopharyngeal and oral airways and she was urgently intubated. Aciclovir 900 mg was given and the patient was transferred to the ICU.

CT head showed no abnormality. A lumbar puncture revealed turbid yellow-tinged cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Dexamethasone 10 mg was given. A phenytoin infusion was started. Sedation was maintained with propofol and fentanyl.

The CSF showed Gram positive cocci and a white cell count of 1274 units with neutrophils 1248 units. CSF glucose was 0.3 units and protein was 5.5 g. Ceftriaxone twice daily and dexamethasone four times daily were continued and acyclovir was discontinued. Blood cultures and CSF both grew Streptococcus pneumoniae. Viral PCR was negative. After 48 hours the patient was extubated and then discharged to the ward without any neurological deficit. She went home 5 days after admission. Ceftriaxone was given for a total of 14 days, facilitated by the outpatient parenteral antibiotic therapy team. She was advised not to drive for 6 months.

What adjunctive therapies, if any, are effective in the treatment of bacterial meningitis?Read More »

Declining Admission to Intensive Care

An 86 year-old man was referred to ICU because of oliguria, acidaemia and decreased conscious level. He had originally been referred by the general practitioner to the acute general medicine team with unexplained weight loss, malaise and reduced mobility, 19 days previously. He had a longstanding history of bronchiectasis and COPD. He had been able to mobilise independently around his house and garden until suffering a pneumonia several months before this admission, and since required a four-times-daily care package.

During the current admission the patient had been treated for a further pneumonia on the basis of new chest x-ray changes, breathlessness and raised inflammatory markers. He had also undergone a CT chest/abdomen/pelvis for the unexplained weight loss. This was consistent with chronic COPD and bronchiectasis but no other positive findings. A week prior to ICU referral he was found to have acute kidney injury (creatinine 280 µmol/mL, baseline 90 µmol/mL) which had failed to improve. In the 24 hours prior to referral had become progressively drowsy and oliguric.

The patient appeared frail, cachectic and oedematous. He groaned in response to voice and could not follow commands. He had Kussmaul breathing at a rate of about 18 breaths per minute with SaO2 of 91% on 35% oxygen via facemask. Arterial blood gas showed pH 7.09, pCO2 7.1 kPa, pO2 9.1 kPa, base excess -9.3 mEq/L, lactate 1.3 mmol/L, glucose 8.7 mmol/L, creatinine 294 µmol/mL. His chest x-ray showed persistent bilateral patchy consolidation. He had a blood pressure of 98/55 mmHg with a pulse of 110 beats/min and cool peripheries. ECG showed sinus tachycardia. He was afebrile. Abdomen was soft and a urinary catheter had drained only 25 mL in the last 4 hours. Other than reduced responsiveness, neurological survey was non-diagnostic.

Evaluation of this patient revealed an elderly man who was severely unwell with acute kidney injury, probable sepsis, and a poor response to treatment to date. This was on the background of chronic suppurative lung disease, and diminished health for several weeks. No specific treatment limitations were in place. His next-of-kin was unaware of any prior expressed wishes and was under the impression that the patient would prefer active treatment. The referring team were of the opinion that intensive care should be considered.

Although no unifying diagnosis for this gentleman’s kidney injury had been identified, a single, rapidly-reversible condition was not apparent. The principal indication for intensive care was for renal replacement therapy for an unknown duration. In view of the status of his neurological, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, it was deemed that airway protection, invasive respiratory support and vasopressor treatment would almost certainly be required. His overall health status made the prospect of survival from a prolonged period of multi-organ support on intensive care highly unlikely. After discussion with the intensive care consultant and the referring consultant it was decided to withhold admission to the intensive care unit. Appropriate family discussions were held. The patient was actively managed on the ward for a further 12 hours, after which fluid management, antimicrobials and further investigation were ceased. He died the following day.

What uncertainties do we face when declining admission to intensive care?Read More »

The Role of Antibiotics in Acute Pancreatitis

A 65-year-old woman was admitted with a two-day history of feeling non-specifically unwell, severe upper abdominal pain, anorexia and vomiting. On examination she was tachycardic, hypotensive with epigastric tenderness and guarding. Admission amylase was 1024 mmol/L. A diagnosis of acute pancreatitis was made and she was admitted for conservative management with IV fluids and analgaesia. Her initial Ranson score was 3 placing her at moderate risk of of death. Abdominal ultrasound scanning showed a swollen pancreas with a small amount of free fluid but no gallstones or obstruction to the biliary system. Over the next twelve hours she deteriorated on the ward, developing type 1 respiratory failure for which she was referred to intensive care.

On admission to ITU she was semi-electively intubated and ventilated. A low-dose infusion of noradrenaline required to achieve adequate mean arterial pressure. A CT scan showed inflammatory changes and free fluid around the pancreas with possible early pseudocyst formation but no necrotic areas. Two hours after admission she became pyrexial at 39.5°C with a modest increase in her noradrenaline requirements. Peripheral blood cultures were taken and empirical imipenem started following discussion with microbiology. Subsequent repeated microbiological cultures of blood, ascitic fluid, urine and sputum were negative. A nasojejunal tube was passed to allow enteral feeding.

Over the next 48 hours her sedation was weaned and her respiratory function improved. Vasculitis screens, viral serology, lipids, etc. were all negative or normal. Despite her clinical improvement she remained pyrexial with an elevated CRP and white cell count. Further microbiological sampling was unhelpful, serum procalcitonin middling and repeat CT scan showed maturation of her pseduocyst. Fine needle aspiration was performed and subsequently proved culture negative. Her imipenem was stopped after 7 days after gradual resolution of her noradrenaline requirements. Surgical tracheostomy was performed on day 11 to facilitate ventilatory weaning and she was discharged to the ward on day 21.

What is the role for antibiotics in acute pancreatitis?Read More »

Heparin Induced Thrombocytopaenia


A 75 year old was admitted to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit following aortic valve replacement for severe aortic stenosis. He had no other significant past medical history. He remained intubated and ventilated overnight until cardiovascularly stable, and was extubated the following morning. He suffered bleeding into the pericardial drains, and went back to theatre on day 3. He remained intubated on his return from theatre. On day 7 it was noticed that he had developed thrombocytopenia, with a platelet count of 34, reducing from 103 the previous day. A heparin induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) screen was sent, and he was changed to alternative anticoagulation.

The HIT screen was positive. His platelet count fell further and he continued to bleed slowly from any puncture sites and from around his mouth and gums. He remained intubated and ventilated and developed a requirement for inotropic support. Transfusions of platelets were required for any intervention. He was anticoagulated with lepirudin to prevent thrombosis. His platelet count continued to remain in single figures over the next 10 days despite treatment with steroids. Unfortunately he deteriorated, suffering an arterial thrombosis in his arm, renal failure and developed a necrotic skin rash all over his body, likely to be related to the HIT. Following discussions with his family, who felt he was suffering and would not want a poor quality of life, treatment was withdrawn on day 26 of his intensive care stay and she died.

What are the clinical implications of heparin-induced thrombocytopaenia?Read More »

Pneumococcal Sepsis

An elderly man with a background of ischaemic heart disease, severe aortic stenosis and type 2 diabetes mellitus presented following recent travel from Hong Kong with shortness of breath and hypoxia. A chest X-ray confirmed left lower lobe consolidation (CRP 502, WCC 22) and he was commenced on broad spectrum antibiotics (Tazocin and Clarithromycin). Over the following 12 hours he deteriorated on the ward, with worsening hypoxia, hypotension and anuria.

He required emergency admission to intensive care for intubation and ventilation, and required inotropic support. He developed a severe metabolic acidosis and rising lactate, for which  haemofiltration was commenced. Vasopressin was added, followed by dobutamine, and hydrocortisone started for inotrope resistant hypotension. He remained ventilated on 100% oxygen, with high pressure support. He had a positive pneumococcal antigen, and high dose benzylpenicillin was added to his antibiotic regime, along with Oseltamivir (Tamiflu). Despite 12 hours of intensive therapy his acidosis worsened and he failed to respond to increasing doses of inotropic support, dying 30 hours after presentation to hospital.

What are the clinical features of pneumococcal sepsis?Read More »

Massive Transfusion in Upper Gastrointestinal Haemorrhage

A 55 year old male presented with acute upper abdominal pain and haematemesis. He had admitted drinking alcohol to excess. Following admission, he had a further significant episode of haematemesis associated with haemorrhagic shock. An emergency oesophagogastrectomy (OGD) was arranged in theatre. His pre-procedure haemoglobin was 60g/L.  OGD revealed large amounts of fresh blood in the stomach, which prevented identification of the bleeding point. The patient had a number of oesophageal varices, attempts were made to band these but this did not stop the bleeding. A partial gastrectomy was undertaken. The patient received a total of 18 units of red blood cells, 14 units of flesh frozen plasma and 2 units of platelets and cryoprecipitate before being taken to Intensive Care intubated and ventilated.

On the Intensive Care Unit he was warmed and repeat blood tests were sent to ensure correction of his coagulopathy. Haemoglobin was recorded as 9.4g/dL and the APTTr was normal. The following day when he was normothermic and cardiovascularly stable he was woken and extubated. He was discharged to the ward the following day.

When should we transfuse in upper gastro-intestinal haemorrhage? Are there any adjunctive therapies that can help?Read More »

Attempted Suicide and Treatment Withdrawal

A elderly man  was found unconscious at home having taken an overdose of prescription medication. This event may have been precipitated by a recent bereavement and worsening of his preexisting depression for which he had recently been reviewed by psychiatric services and commenced on an SNRI. He left a note at the scene of the suicide attempt, clearly stating that he intended to take his own life and did not wish to be resuscitated in the event of being found alive. He was discovered in his home by a relative who had been growing increasingly concerned as to his welfare, having not spoken to him for several days. On arrival in ED his Glasgow coma score (GCS) was 3/15. He was known to be taking venlafaxine for depression and amitriptyline for chronic back pain, and empty packets of each drug were found at his home.

He was intubated and transferred to the intensive care unit. Supportive care was provided including vasopressors (noradrenaline) for hypotension, electrolyte correction and ventilatory support. Plain chest radiograph showed a probable aspiration pneumonitis affecting the right upper and middle lobe. He was hypoxic with a high Fi 02 requirement and needed high levels of PEEP to maintain adequate oxygenation. His conscious level fluctuated over several days and he became increasingly agitated and exhibited signs of distress. At this stage it was not clear if he was orientated in time, place or person. He underwent percutaneous tracheostomy to facilitate weaning and reduce sedation requirements.

We were then able to wean him from sedation by day 11 of his admission. The patient’s ventilatory requirements were still high requiring mean airway pressures of 30 cmH2O, PEEP of 10 cmH2O, and an inspired oxygen concentration of 60%. At this stage he indicated to the ITU team that he did not wish treatment to be continued. We found him to be fully orientated in terms of time and place and he was aware of the preceding events and his intentional overdose. It was clearly explained to him that if treatment were discontinued he would die. He indicated to us that he had no intention of changing his mind.

We referred him to the liaison psychiatrist for the hospital who independently assessed and found him to be competent and able to fully understand the implications of such a decision, i.e. his likely death from respiratory failure. The psychiatrist also found him to be depressed but noted that this did not interfere with his competence and ability to give or withhold his consent. With his consent, his family were informed of this development. They had been agonizing for some time over whether they had made the right decision to call emergency services when they first found him. They attempted to dissuade him but his resolve was unshakeable. Invasive ventilation was withdrawn on the morning of his 15th day of ITU as per his wishes. Diamorphine was administered to reduce symptoms of respiratory distress. He died of hypoxia later that day. Cause of death was recorded as aspiration pneumonia.

Describe the ethical and legal framework utilised in the management of this patient.Read More »

maternal Sepsis

Maternal sepsis

A 22-year-old female recent migrant presented at 31 weeks gestation (gravida 2 para 0) to the obstetric unit. She was complaining of diminished fetal movements. She had been well up to that morning but was complaining of increasing abdominal discomfort, and was becoming distressed. Examination showed she was not in labour but her abdomen was tender. Cardiotocograph showed a fetal heart rate of 130 bpm and poor variability. Two hours post admission, she was re-examined by obstetricians. Abdominal ultrasound failed to identify a fetal heartbeat. A diagnosis was made of intrauterine death, and initially a placental abruption was suspected. Ultrasound showed no thrombus and an intact placenta and so this was excluded. She was diagnosed as having a late miscarriage and the pain was assumed to be due to ongoing miscarriage. She was transferred to labour ward and a morphine PCA commenced for analgesia.

She received a dose of IV antibiotics on arrival to labour ward. At this point it was noted her oxygen saturations were falling and she was becoming increasingly drowsy, and this was felt to be due to sensitivity to the PCA. She was reviewed by obstetric anaesthetists who performed an arterial blood gas, which showed a marked metabolic acidosis with serum lactate of 6.3, and a diagnosis of severe sepsis was made. There was concern that the retained fetal material was the focus, and she was taken to theatre for emergency caesarian section. She was then transferred to ITU. By this stage she had developed established disseminated intravascular coagulation and pulmonary oedema. She developed rapidly worsening multiorgan failure and shock refractory to large doses of noradrenaline and died that evening, 8 hours post admission. Cause of death was found to be group A streptococcal sepsis.

What is the significance of sepsis in obstetric patients?Read More »

Tourniquets in Severe Traumatic Limb Haemorrhage

Tourniquets in Severe Traumatic Limb Haemorrhage

A 30 year old male pedestrian was involved in a road traffic collision with a car travelling at speed. On arrival of the paramedics he was found to be unconscious with evidence of severe blood loss. He also had a partial amputation of his right leg below the knee. The paramedics applied a combat application tourniquet to the thigh, above the injury. He then suffered a cardiorespiratory arrest and CPR was commenced. On arrival in the emergency department his trachea was intubated and he underwent bilateral decompressive thoracostomies. Large bore intra-venous access was secured and two units of packed red cells given by a rapid infusion device. He remained haemodynamically unstable requiring a further six units of red cells and associated blood products to maintain a systolic blood pressure of above 80mmHg. Orthopaedic members of the trauma team were persistently keen to remove the tourniquet in order to prevent distal-neurovascular damage. This request was repeatedly denied and he was transferred rapidly to theatre for definitive control of his ongoing haemorrhage with an exploratory laparotomy. No cause for haemorrhage was found on laparotomy so attention shifted to damage control surgery on his leg in order to try and achieve some haemodynamic stability. Unfortunately to achieve this aim the tourniquet was removed. Bleeding was uncontrollable even with reapplication of the tourniquet and the patient exsanguinated and died.

What are the current recommendations for the use of limb tourniquets in trauma, and what is the evidence base for those recommendations?

Read More »

Coiling versus Clipping Subarachnoid Haemorrhages

Coiling versus Clipping Subarachnoid Haemorrhages

A 40 year old female presented with a severe sudden onset headache, and deteriorated in the emergency department with worsening agitation and confusion requiring intubation and ventilation for her own safety. A CT scan diagnosed a Fisher Grade 4 subarachnoid haemorrhage and obstructive hydrocephalus. Clinical presentation was scored as Hunt and Hess grade 4 or World Federation of Neurosurgeons grade 4. The patient was transferred to the local tertiary Neurocritical care unit where an extra-ventricular drain was inserted overnight. The following day the patient underwent coiling of her right middle cerebral artery aneurysm in the radiology suite. A Magnesium infusion and Nimodipine therapy were commenced to reduce the risk of vasospasm. On initial sedation hold she woke up agitated so she had an early tracheostomy placed to allow controlled wake up. She had a straightforward respiratory wean from the ventilator over the next few days. Neurological recovery was good (Glasgow coma score improved to 14/15) and the patient was discharged to the ward for on-going neuro rehabilitation and repatriation to the base hospital.

What are the risks of clipping vs coiling subarachnoid haemorrhages?Read More »