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Meningococcal Infection

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Meningococcal Infection







What is Meningococcal Infection


The meningococcal infection is caused by the Neisseria meningtidis bacterium, also known as the ‘meningococcus’. It carries a high mortality rate if untreated and affects about 1 to 5 per 100,000 people in developed countries. There are at least 13 different groups of meningococcus, but most infections are caused by group B and group C (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2012). Pollard and Maiden (2001) note that the different strands of the meningococcal pathogen is still not fully understood with extensive work continuing to improve treatments and effective vaccines.


Meningococcal infection is severe, and may cause meningitis (infection of the outer lining of the brain and spinal cord) septicemia (infection of the blood), joint infections, pneumonia and a rash. Symptoms in infants include fever, refusing feeds, fretfulness, vomiting, rash or reddish-purple spots, bruises, high-pitched or moaning cry or pale blotchy skin (Henderson, 2011).


Meningococcal bloodstream infections can cause shock and death within hours of symptoms starting. This is because a massive hemorrhage occurs causing the blood vessels to leak. This in turn causes blood pressure to drop and blood to spill out into the skin (which explains red rashes by the victims) and internal organs. If not treated with antibiotics early in its incubation period which normally takes 1 to 10 days, the victim may die (Pollard & Maiden, 2001). The South Australian Communicable Disease Control Branch (2010) notes that 5-10% of Australian people with the infection die, despite rapid treatment. Most cases occur in children under the age of 5.

How Does Meningococcal Infection Spread?


Meningococcal bacteria can be found in the nose and throat of up to 10% of people, where they are almost always harmless. These people are the ‘carriers’ of the bacteria. In a very small number of cases, the bacteria can spread into the bloodstream and can cause serious illness as noted above (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2012).


The bacteria are passed from person to person through prolonged close contact, or through coughing or sneezing. The bacteria does not usually spread by contact with saliva from the front of the mouth (e.g. from sharing drinks, eating utensils).


Incubation Period


The incubation period is usually 3-4 days but can range from 1-10 days (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2012).


Infectious Period


The person is infectious for as long as the bacteria is present in the nose or throat (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2012).


Vaccines have been developed to prevent the disease, but not all types of meningococcal infection are covered. Since the bacteria have several strains, developing a universal vaccine causes a scientific challenge. The United States for example is affected with 3,000 to 4,000 cases of meningococcemia each year. They have a different strand (or version) of the disease from the endemic meningococcemia strains found in the Philippines. Even if a vaccine is developed, scientists fear that it may not prove effective in the long run when new strains occur.

It is imperative therefore that preventative measures are always followed. Washing of hands, a very easy hygienic practice is very important. Healthy diet (to increase resistance to diseases), regular exercise, adequate rest and sleep will also help. Strive to maintain a clean environment and if someone close becomes infected, don’t share utensils, water bottles, lipstick, cigarettes, glasses, or cups, or anything else that has been in the mouth of the victim (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2012).






Henderson, N. National Meningitis Association: April 2011. The Exceptional Parent Vol, 41: No 4.


National Health and Medical Research Council (2012). Staying Healthy: Preventing diseases in early childhood education and care services 5th Edn. NHMRC, Canberra.


Pollard, A.J. & Maiden, M.C.J. (2001) Meningococcal Disease: Methods and Protocols: Human Press.


SA-Health-Communicable Disease Control Branch, 2010. You’ve Got What? Meningococcal Infection, SA Health, Adelaide,


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