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Frequently Asked Questions
What You Need To Know About Meningococcemia
What is Meningococcemia?
Meningococcemia is a bacterial infection with Neisseria meningitidis. This is one of many organisms that can infect the blood and the meninges (the tissues covering the brain and spinal cord). Blood infections caused by this bacteria without meningitis are called meningococcemia. Most cases occur during the winter and spring.
What causes Meningococcemia?
Meningococcemia is caused by an organism that usually lives harmlessly in the noses and throats of as much as 15 percent of the population. In a small number of individuals, the bacterium invades the bloodstream, causing collapse of the circulatory system.
Health experts aren't sure what suddenly sends the organism into the bloodstream, but they think respiratory distress or inflammation may begin the process.
Who gets meningococcemia?
The disease most commonly affects children under age 5, but anyone can get meningococcemia and it is more common in infants, children, and young adults. Nationally, about 3,000 people get the disease annually. Roughly one in 10 dies from it. An additional 10 percent are left with loss of hearing, mental retardation or amputations, usually of fingers or toes.
How does the disease spread?
The disease spreads by contact with mucus or droplets from the nose and throat of an infected person. Many people carry the bacteria in their nose and throat without signs of illness, however.
What are the symptoms of Meningococcemia?
The symptoms of the condition may appear suddenly, and often include fever, intense headache, stiff neck, nausea, and vomiting. Changes in behavior such as confusion, sleepiness, and being hard to wake up are important symptoms.
How soon do symptoms appear?
Symptoms may appear two to ten days after infection, but usually within three to four days.
How long is an infected person able to spread the disease?
A person can spread the disease as long as the bacteria are present in the nose or throat. After treatment, the bacteria usually disappear within 24 hours.
Can a person get this disease again?
Probably not, though there are several types of N. meningitidis and infection with one type doesn't provide immunity to other types.
What is the treatment for meningococcemia?
Patients are usually admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital. Intensive monitoring and treatment are needed. Supportive measures for shock include:
- IV fluids / Antibiotics
- Ventilatory support
- Medical support of blood pressure
Medications include intravenous (IV) aqueous penicillin for antibiotic therapy to eliminate the infection, and high doses of corticosteroids for shock (must be given early). Clotting factors or platelet replacement may be needed if bleeding disorders develop.
Other treatments include: wound care for thrombosed areas of the skin and respiratory isolation for first 24 hours.
Should people who have been around a person infected with meningococcal disease be treated?
Household members, playmates, and close friends of infected persons, or anyone who had saliva contact through kissing, sharing eating utensils, or drinking from the same glass, need to ask their doctor about antibiotics (single dose Ciprofloxin 500 mg. P.O. is recommended). People who have had casual contact as occurs in a classroom, office, or work setting, do not need treatment.
What can be done to stop the spread of meningococcal disease?
Anyone with a cold or influenza-like symptoms should be careful to cover their mouths and noses with tissue when sneezing or coughing.
What is the prognosis for someone diagnosed with meningococcemia?
Early treatment results in a good outcome. When shock develops, the outcome is more guarded. Profound shock, and adrenal collapse all predispose the patient to a poor prognosis with the possibility of death.
What complications can occur as a result of meningococcemia?
- Profound shock
- Limb loss secondary to clots (thrombosis)
- Irreversible shock
- Disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC)
- Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome (symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, skin lesions caused by hemorrhage and circulatory collapse)
- Cutaneous vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels in the skin)
- Pericarditis (inflamation of the membrane that covers the heart)
Note: This information is designed for educational purposes only and is not to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.