Learn About Meningococcemia

What is the definition of Meningococcemia?

Meningococcemia is an acute and potentially life-threatening infection of the bloodstream.

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What are the alternative names for Meningococcemia?

Meningococcal septicemia; Meningococcal blood poisoning; Meningococcal bacteremia

What are the causes of Meningococcemia?

Meningococcemia is caused by bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. The bacteria often live in a person's upper respiratory tract without causing signs of illness. They can be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. For example, you may become infected if you are around someone with the condition and they sneeze or cough.

Family members and those closely exposed to someone with the condition are at increased risk. The infection occurs more often in winter and early spring.

What are the symptoms of Meningococcemia?

There may be few symptoms at first. Some may include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Rash with very small red or purple spots on the feet or legs

Later symptoms may include:

  • A decline in your level of consciousness
  • Large areas of bleeding under the skin
  • Shock
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What are the current treatments for Meningococcemia?

Meningococcemia is a medical emergency. People with this infection are often admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital, where they are closely monitored. They may be placed in respiratory isolation for the first 24 hours to help prevent the spread of the infection to others.

Treatments may include:

  • Antibiotics given through a vein immediately
  • Breathing support
  • Clotting factors or platelet replacement, if bleeding disorders develop
  • Fluids through a vein
  • Medicines to treat low blood pressure
  • Wound care for areas of skin with blood clots
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What is the outlook (prognosis) for Meningococcemia?

Early treatment results in a good outcome. When shock develops, the outcome is less certain.

The condition is most life threatening in those who have:

  • A severe bleeding disorder called disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC)
  • Kidney failure
  • Shock
What are the possible complications of Meningococcemia?

Possible complications of this infection are:

  • Arthritis
  • Bleeding disorder (DIC)
  • Gangrene due to lack of blood supply
  • Inflammation of blood vessels in the skin
  • Inflammation of the heart muscle
  • Inflammation of the heart lining
  • Shock
  • Severe damage to adrenal glands that can lead to low blood pressure (Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome)
When should I contact a medical professional for Meningococcemia?

Go to the emergency room immediately if you have symptoms of meningococcemia. Call your provider if you have been around someone with the disease.

How do I prevent Meningococcemia?

Preventive antibiotics for family members and other close contacts are often recommended. Speak with your provider about this option.

A vaccine that covers some, but not all, strains of meningococcus is recommended for children age 11 or 12. A booster is given at age 16. Unvaccinated college students who live in dormitories should also consider receiving this vaccine. It should be given a few weeks before they first move into the dorm. Talk to your provider about this vaccine.

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What are the Latest Advances for Meningococcemia?

There is no recent research available for this condition. Please check back because thousands of new papers are published every week and we strive to find and display the most recent relevant research as soon as it is available.

Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date: December 24, 2020
Published By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Marquez L. Meningococcal disease. In: Cherry JD, Harrison GJ, Kaplan SL, Steinbach WJ, Hotez PJ, eds. Feigin and Cherry's Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 88.

Stephens DS, Apicella MA. Neisseria meningitidis. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 211.