Meningococcemia is an
Meningococcal septicemia; Meningococcal blood poisoning; Meningococcal bacteremia
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Meningococcemia is caused by a bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. The bacteria frequently lives in a person’s upper respiratory tract without causing visible signs of illness. The bacteria can be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets — for example, you may become infected if you are around someone with the condition when they sneeze or cough.
Family members and those closely exposed to someone with the condition are at increased risk. The infection occurs more frequently in winter and early spring.
There may be few symptoms at first. Some may include:
- Muscle pain
- Rash with red or purple spots (
Later symptoms may include:
- Changing level of consciousness
- Large areas of bleeding under the skin (
Signs and tests
Blood tests will be done to rule out other infections and help confirm meningococcemia. Such tests may include:
Blood culture Complete blood countwith differential
- Clotting studies (
Other tests that may be done include:
Lumbar punctureto get a sample of spinal fluid for CSF culture Skin biopsyand Gram stain Urinalysis
Meningococcemia is a medical emergency. Persons with this type of infection are often admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital, where they are closely monitored. The person 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 (IV), given immediately
- Breathing support
- Clotting factors or platelet replacement — if
- Fluids through a vein (IV)
- Medications to treat low blood pressure
- Wound care for areas of skin with blood clots
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:
Disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC) – a severe bleeding disorder
- Disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC)
- Gangrene due to lack of blood supply
- Inflammation of blood vessels in the skin (cutaneous vasculitis)
- Severe damage to adrenal glands that can lead to low blood pressure (
Calling your health care provider
Go to the emergency room immediately if you have symptoms of meningococcemia. Call your doctor if you have been around someone with the disease.
Preventive antibiotics for family members and contacts are often recommended. Speak with your health care 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 doctor about the appropriate use of this vaccine.