Meningococcal disease is an infection which is caused by the meningococcus bacterium. There are three forms of the invasive disease;
- Meningitis, in which the infection affects the meninges – the covering of the brain and spinal cord
- Meningococcal septicaemia, where the bacteria end up invading the bloodstream and causing blood poisoning
- A combination of both meningitis and septicaemia.
It is important to know that people can be carriers of the meningococcus bacterium in their nose and throat. Carriers of meningococcal disease will remain well themselves; however, they can spread the disease by spreading fine droplets when sneezing or coughing. People who come in contact with the bacterium can end up becoming unwell with invasive meningococcal disease.
Anyone can develop the disease, however it is more likely to appear in children under five and young adults.
Symptoms Of Meningococcal Disease In Adults
Patients with meningococcal diseases can become very unwell and display the following symptoms;
- High fever
- Feeling lethargic, drowsy, irritable or confused
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Hands and feet feeling cold
- Pain and soreness in the joints and muscles
Patients who have meningococcal meningitis are also likely to present with photophobia (a dislike of bright lights), a stiffness of the neck, and seizures. Patients who are developing septicaemia can develop a rash which begins as small red or purple spots, which then enlarge and resemble bruises.
Treatment And Prevention Of Meningococcal Diseases
When meningococcal diseases are diagnosed and treated early, patients will usually make a full recovery. However, if treatment is delayed, patients can end up suffering long-term complications which include deafness. Treatments for meningococcal diseases involve;
- Antibiotics which are given intravenously via a drip
- Corticosteroid medicines, also given intravenously but are known to reduce the risk of complication
There are different strains of the bacterium, but the ones which are most likely to cause disease are known as groups A, B, C, W and Y. To prevent outbreaks of meningococcal disease, vaccinations have been introduced against several strains. Since 2003 in Australia, vaccination for meningococcus C has been part of the national immunisation programme schedule and is recommended for all babies at twelve months. There is a vaccine for meningococcus B also which can be privately purchased and given to children as young as two months. This vaccine is recommended for young children and infants, adolescents who are aged between fifteen to nineteen years old, or those who have medical conditions that put them at a high risk of contracting the disease.
A meningococcal vaccine which offers protection against four strains of meningococci (A, C, W135 and Y) is also available. This quadrivalent vaccine is only recommended in certain high-risk situations such as travelling overseas to high-risk areas and for those who have medical conditions which place them at an increased risk of developing the disease.
An infection with meningococcal disease can develop quickly and can be fatal if left untreated. If you suspect that you or anyone you know has symptoms which are suggestive of the disease, see your doctor immediately.