Central nervous system (CNS) infections cause significant morbidity and mortality and often require neurosurgical intervention for proper diagnosis and treatment. However, neither the international burden of CNS infection, nor the current capacity of the neurosurgical workforce to treat these diseases is well characterized. The objective of this study was to elucidate the global incidence of surgically relevant CNS infection, highlighting geographic areas for targeted improvement in neurosurgical capacity.
A systematic literature review and meta-analysis were performed to capture studies published between 1990 and 2016. PubMed, EMBASE, and Cochrane databases were searched using variations of terms relating to CNS infection and epidemiology (incidence, prevalence, burden, case fatality, etc.). To deliver a geographic breakdown of disease, results were pooled using the random-effects model and stratified by WHO region and national income status for the different CNS infection types.
The search yielded 10,906 studies, 154 of which were used in the final qualitative analysis. A meta-analysis was performed to compute disease incidence by using data extracted from 71 of the 154 studies. The remaining 83 studies were excluded from the quantitative analysis because they did not report incidence. A total of 508,078 cases of CNS infections across all studies were included, with a total sample size of 130,681,681 individuals. Mean patient age was 35.8 years (range: newborn to 95 years), and the male/female ratio was 1:1.74. Among the 71 studies with incidence data, 39 were based in high-income countries, 25 in middle-income countries, and 7 in low-income countries. The pooled incidence of studied CNS infections was consistently highest in low-income countries, followed by middle- and then high-income countries. Regarding WHO regions, Africa had the highest pooled incidence of bacterial meningitis (65 cases/100,000 people), neurocysticercosis (650/100,000), and tuberculous spondylodiscitis (55/100,000), whereas Southeast Asia had the highest pooled incidence of intracranial abscess (49/100,000), and Europe had the highest pooled incidence of nontuberculous vertebral spondylodiscitis (5/100,000). Overall, few articles reported data on deaths associated with infection. The limited case fatality data revealed the highest case fatality for tuberculous meningitis/spondylodiscitis (21.1%) and the lowest for neurocysticercosis (5.5%). In all five disease categories, funnel plots assessing for publication bias were asymmetrical and suggested that the results may underestimate the incidence of disease.
This systematic review and meta-analysis approximates the global incidence of neurosurgically relevant infectious diseases. These results underscore the disproportionate burden of CNS infections in the developing world, where there is a tremendous demand to provide training and resources for high-quality neurosurgical care.