Meningococcal disease is an infection brought about by the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria or meningococcus. This bacterium can cause serious infections in humans. In most cases, the infections involve the meninges which are the tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord but can also affect the bloodstream and trigger a generalized infection. Once the meninges are affected, it is called meningococcal meningitis. If the bloodstream is involved, it is called meningococcal sepsis or meningococcemia.
The condition requires immediate treatment using aggressive antibiotic therapy to reduce the risk for complications. Luckily, meningococcal disease can be prevented with vaccination.
What are the indications of meningococcal disease?
The indications of meningococcal disease are linked to the site of the infection. If the meninges are inflamed, it can cause symptoms such as light sensitivity, headache and a stiff neck.
As for meningococcemia, the symptoms are usually widespread all over the body. There might be a rash along with mood changes such as anxiety or irritability. In some cases, nausea can also arise. Initially, however, there are only a few or only subtle symptoms.
There are various factors that increases the likelihood of acquiring meningococcal disease such as:
- Age between 2-18 years
- Close exposure to an infected individual
- Working or attending a daycare or school facility
- Infrequent washing of hands
- Lack of vaccination
- Weak immune system
- Travelling to an area with a high number of cases of meningococcal disease
The ideal treatment for meningococcal disease is to avoid it in the first place. There are 2 forms of effective vaccines that have been developed against the specific strains of Neisseria meningitidis which is responsible for most cases.
These vaccines include those that are routinely given to children. The vaccine is recommended for children ages 11-12 but can be administered to younger children at high risk. It is also recommended for young adults living in dormitories if not vaccinated previously.
Antibiotics are used to manage the disease. The individual should carefully follow the prescribed course to prevent any complications from arising. The treatment also includes:
- Anticonvulsant medications to prevent seizures in severe cases
- Corticosteroids to minimize the swelling and inflammation
- Fever-reducing medications such as acetaminophen
- Medications that increase the blood pressure if it is too low
- Intravenous fluids as needed
- Oxygen or mechanical ventilation if needed
- Surgery if there are complications
- Transfusion of blood products if there are issues with clotting and bleeding