What Is Meningococcemia?
Meningococcemia is an infection caused by the Neisseria
meningitidis bacteria. This is the same type of bacteria that can
cause meningitis. When the bacteria infect the membranes that cover your brain
and spinal cord, it’s called meningitis.
When the infection remains in your blood but doesn’t infect your brain or
spinal cord, it’s called meningococcemia.
Neisseria meningitidis bacteria are common in your
upper respiratory tract and don’t necessarily cause illness. Although anyone
can get meningococcemia, it’s most common in babies, children, and young
An infection by Neisseria meningitidis, whether it
becomes meningitis or meningococcemia, is considered a medical emergency and
requires immediate medical attention.
What Causes Meningococcemia?
Neisseria meningitidis, the bacteria that cause
meningococcemia, can live harmlessly in your upper respiratory tract. Simply
being exposed to this germ is not enough to cause this disease. Up to 10 percent of people may
carry these bacteria, but not all of these people become sick.
An infected person can spread these bacteria through coughing and
What Are the Symptoms of Meningococcemia?
You may only have a few symptoms initially. Common early symptoms
- rash consisting of small spots
As the disease progresses, you may develop more serious symptoms,
- blood clots
- patches of bleeding under your skin
How Is Meningococcemia Diagnosed?
Meningococcemia is usually diagnosed through blood tests. Your
doctor will take a sample of your blood and then do a blood culture to
determine if bacteria are present. Blood is usually drawn from a vein in the
arm or hand.
Your doctor may perform the same test using fluid from your spine
instead of your blood. In this case, the test is called a cerebrospinal fluid
(CSF) culture. Your doctor will get CSF from a spinal tap, or lumbar puncture.
Other tests your doctor might perform include:
- skin biopsy
- urine test
- blood clotting tests
- complete blood count
How Is Meningococcemia Treated?
Meningococcemia must be treated immediately. You’ll be admitted
to the hospital and possibly kept in an isolated room to stop the bacteria from
You’ll be given antibiotics through a vein to begin fighting the
infection. You may also receive intravenous fluids.
Other treatments depend on the symptoms you’ve developed. If you’re
having difficulty breathing, you’ll receive oxygen. If your blood pressure
becomes too low, you’ll most likely receive medication.
Meningococcemia can lead to bleeding disorders. If this occurs,
your doctor may give you platelet replacement therapy.
In some cases, your doctor may also wish to give your close
contacts prophylactic antibiotics, even if they show no symptoms. This can help
prevent them from developing the disease.
Who Is Likely to Develop Meningococcemia?
of the total number of cases of meningococcal disease occur in children
under 4 years old. This figure includes both meningococcal meningitis and
If you’ve recently moved into a group living situation, such as a
dormitory, you’re more likely to develop the condition. If you’re planning to
enter into such a living situation, your doctor may tell you to get vaccinated
against this condition.
You’re also at an increased risk if you live with or have been in
very close contact with someone who has the disease. Speak to your doctor if
this is the case. They may choose to give you preventive antibiotics.
Tips to Prevent Meningococcemia
Practicing healthy hygiene can decrease the risk of infection.
This includes washing hands thoroughly and covering your mouth and nose when
sneezing and coughing.
You can also help reduce your risk of infection by avoiding
people who are coughing, sneezing, or showing other signs of illness. Also,
don’t share personal items with sick people. This means not sharing anything
that comes into contact with the mouth unless it has been washed after it was
If you’ve been exposed to an infected person, your doctor may
recommend preventive antibiotics. This will reduce your chances of getting the
Your doctor may recommend that you get a vaccination. There are
three types of vaccinations available in the United States. Vaccination is
recommended for those at increased risk for infection, such as teenagers,
college students, or people about to move into a group living situation for the
first time. Talk to your doctor about possible vaccination options.