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  Disease Information

Meningococcal disease is a contagious condition caused by the entry of the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis into the nose, mouth or throat via droplets (sneezing or coughing) or direct contact. Nasopharyngeal carriage is common; up to 25% of adolescents and 5-11% of adults are carriers without clinical manifestations of the disease. Among the wide range of clinical expressions of the disease, the two most common manifestations are meningitis and septicemia (also called meningococcemia).

Meningococcal disease is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Over the last decade, it has become the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in children and young adults. Prior to this, Haemophilus influenzae type b was the leading bacterial agent to induce meningitis, however the incidence of the disease was successfully reduced due to mass vaccination campaigns. Today meningococcal disease remains one of the leading causes of infant mortality in Western Europe.


  • Meningococcal meningitis is the more common entity, a serious condition characterized by a painful inflammation of the meninges (membranes covering the brain and spinal cord). It is one of the most important medical emergencies demanding early diagnosis and effective therapy.

    Complications of meningitis may include hearing loss early in the course of the disease, seizures, cerebral infarctions, and sometimes permanent disabilities including mental retardation and deafness.


  • Meningococcal septicemia, in which bacteria are found in the blood stream, is less common, but highly fatal. It begins with a sudden onset of fever, malaise, myalgia, severe headache and seizures occurring in about 20% of the cases. Diarrhea and vomiting are common and the patient usually develops a rash, starting as small red spots on the chest and extremities, but rapidly becoming more extensive or even necrotic. Symptoms of septicemia can occur within 24 hours or less, often before patients present to a physician or a clinic. This fulminating septicemia is associated with hypotension, intravascular coagulation (due to endotoxin) and dissemination to other organs.

    Complications of septicemia may include inflammation of different organs, such as myocarditis, endocarditis or pericarditis; sometimes conjunctivitis, urethritis and pharyngitis may occur. In rare cases amputations have to be carried out, and some patients require skin grafts.








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