Symptoms and Signs of Meningococcemia

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 4/28/2022

Doctor's Notes on Meningococcemia

Meningococcemia is a disease caused by the dissemination of meningococci bacteria (Neisseria meningitides) into the bloodstream. Signs and symptoms for the disease include

Many patients develop a spotty purple rash that may vary in size. If the brain meninges are involved, patients may have a headache, stiff neck, altered mental status, and photophobia. Children may exhibit irritability, lethargy, slow reactions, poor feeding, and vomiting.

The cause of meningococcemia is the presence of Neisseria meningitides in the patient's bloodstream. This disease needs early treatment as it can rapidly cause septic shock, hypotension, gangrene, skin breakdown, neurologic problems, and death.

What Are the Treatments for Meningococcemia?

The best treatments are the vaccines (three types in the U.S., administered according to age) to prevent the infection. However, if you suspect you have been exposed to someone who has the disease or you think you have the infection, seek medical care immediately; the infection can progress quickly if untreated. If you or a close relative, child, or associate have symptoms, call 911 and do not delay. The immediate treatment is usually IV antibiotics like penicillin or ceftriaxone. Some individuals are treated with steroids to reduce inflammation and spinal fluid pressure. Antibiotic types may change according to the sensitivity (resistance) of the bacteria to the antibiotic. In addition, some individuals may benefit from draining their sinuses or mastoids.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.