Rare Classroom: Bacterial Meningococcal Disease

Welcome to the Rare Classroom, a new series from Patient Worthy. Rare Classroom is designed for the curious reader who wants to get informed on some of the rarest, most mysterious diseases and conditions. There are thousands of rare diseases out there, but only a very small number of them have viable treatments and regularly make the news. This series is an opportunity to learn the basics about some of the diseases that almost no one hears much about or that we otherwise haven’t been able to report on very often.

Eyes front and ears open. Class is now in session.

The rare disease that we will be learning about today is:

Bacterial Meningococcal Disease

What is Bacterial Meningococcal Disease?

  • Meningococcal disease can refer to any illness caused by the type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis, also known as meningococcus [muh-ning-goh-KOK-us]. These illnesses are often severe and can be deadly. They include infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream infections (bacteremia or septicemia).
  • Doctors treat meningococcal disease with antibiotics, but quick medical attention is extremely important. Keeping up to date with recommended vaccines is the best defense against meningococcal disease.
  • Outbreaks of meningococcal disease are rare in the United States. In fact, only about 2 to 3 out of every 100 cases are related to outbreaks. However, the onset of an outbreak is unpredictable and the outcomes can be devastating to affected communities and organizations. In certain outbreaks, CDC recommends vaccination against meningococcal disease to help stop the disease from spreading.

How Do You Get It?

  • These bacteria spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like spit (e.g., by living in close quarters, kissing).
  • Meningococcal disease is transmitted through direct exchange of respiratory and throat secretions by close personal contact, such as coughing, sharing drinks, and kissing, or being in close proximity for an extended period (e.g., roommates).​ This infection is not spread by casual contact (e.g., classroom contact), touching doorknobs or other surfaces, or by breathing the air where a person with the disease has been.

What Are The Symptoms?

  • Fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Photophobia
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

In more severe disease (septicemia):

  • Chills
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Dark purple rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid breathing
  • Severe aching pain affecting the abdomen, chest, joints, and muscles

If not treated promptly, permanent, long term impacts can occur such as:

  • Motor impairment
  • Neurological dysfunction
  • Vision loss
  • Loss of limbs (due to need for amputation)
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Blindness

How Is It Treated?

  • Vaccinations are effective in preventing most strains
    • Available for both children and adults
  • All teens and preteens are recommended to receive vaccinations due to increased risk
  • Vaccines may be recommended for younger children or in adults under certain circumstances
  • In patients, prompt use of antibiotics is critical.
  • In severe cases, breathing assistance, medication for low blood pressure, and surgery to remove dead tissue may be necessary

Where Can I Learn More???

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