What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease results from infection with a type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis, often referred to as meningococcus, that can cause serious infections in humans. Most commonly, these infections involve the meninges, the tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord, but they can also occur in the bloodstream and cause a generalized infection. When the meninges are involved, the infection is called meningococcal meningitis; when the bloodstream is involved, the infection is called meningococcemia or meningococcal sepsis.

Neisseria meningitidis causes many cases of meningitis in United States among children and young adults. It is the second most common cause of meningitis; approximately 2,600 people are diagnosed with it each year in the United States (Source: NINDS).

Meningococcal disease is found worldwide, and incidence is particularly high in a region of sub-Saharan Africa often referred to as the “meningitis belt.” Travelers to this region may be at risk of developing meningococcal disease, particularly in the dry season when the incidence is at its peak.

Meningococcal disease needs to be treated with prompt and aggressive antibiotic therapy to lower the risk of complications. Luckily, meningococcal disease can often be prevented through vaccination. Not all species of Neisseria are covered by the vaccine, but it does cover the specific types of Neisseria meningitidis most likely to cause meningococcal disease.

Meningococcal disease is a medical emergency, and treatment needs to be started right away to reduce the risk of serious and even life-threatening complications. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for symptoms such as a rash of dark red or purple spots, severe headache, unusual neck stiffness, high fever, confusion, lethargy, loss or change in level of consciousness, seizure, and unusual irritability in a small child.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?

Symptoms of meningococcal disease are related to the site of infection. Inflammation of the meninges (the tissues that enclose the brain and spinal cord) accounts for some of the key symptoms of meningococcal meningitis, such as headache, sensitivity to light, and neck stiffness.

Symptoms of meningococcemia are widespread throughout the body. A rash may be present, as well as chan... Read more about meningococcal diseasesymptoms

CAUSES

What causes meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. It is contagious and spreads from person to person through tiny droplets that are sent into the air during talking, laughing, coughing and sneezing. It can also spread by kissing, sharing eating utensils, and hand-to-hand contact.

Meningococcal disease tends to occur in settings where people are in close conta... Read more about meningococcal diseasecauses

TREATMENTS

How is meningococcal disease treated?

The best treatment for meningococcal disease is avoiding it in the first place. Two types of effective vaccines have been developed against the specific types of Neisseria meningitidis that cause most cases of meningococcal disease.

Meningococcal vaccines are among those that are routinely given to children. The vaccination is recommended for children between the ages of 11 and 12... Read more about meningococcal diseasetreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Infections and Contagious Diseases


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