Home > Diseases and Conditions > Meningitis - meningococcal
  • We are sorry, but NCBI web applications do not support your browser and may not function properly. More information

PubMed Health. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Meningitis - meningococcal

Meningococcal meningitis

Last reviewed: August 15, 2012.

Meningococcal meningitis is an infection that results in swelling and irritation (inflammation) of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Meningococcal meningitis is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis (also known as meningococcus).

Most cases of meningococcal meningitis occur in children and teens. Meningococcus is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in children and a leading cause of bacterial meningitis in adults.

The infection occurs more often in winter or spring. It may cause local epidemics at boarding schools, college dormitories, or military bases.

Risk factors include recent exposure to meningococcal meningitis and a recent upper respiratory infection.

Symptoms

Symptoms usually come on quickly, and may include:

Other symptoms that can occur with this disease:

  • Agitation
  • Decreased consciousness
  • Poor feeding or irritability in children
  • Rapid breathing
  • Unusual posture with the head and neck arched backwards (opisthotonus)

Signs and tests

The doctor or nurse will examine the patient. This will show:

  • Fast heart rate
  • Mental status changes
  • Rash
  • Stiff neck

If the health care provider thinks meningitis is possible, a lumbar puncture ("spinal tap") should be done to remove a sample of spinal fluid (cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF) for testing.

Tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Antibiotics should be started as soon as possible. Ceftriaxone is one of the most commonly used antibiotics for meningococcal meningitis. Penicillin in high doses is almost always effective, too.

If the patient is allergic to penicillin, chloramphenicol may be used. Sometimes corticosteroids may be used, especially in children.

People in close contact with someone who has meningococcal meningitis should be given antibiotics to prevent infection. Such people include:

  • Household members
  • Roommates in dormitories
  • Those who come into close and long-term contact with an infected person

Expectations (prognosis)

Early treatment improves the outcome. Death is possible. Young children and adults over 50 have the highest risk of death.

Complications

Calling your health care provider

Call the local emergency number (such as 911) or go to an emergency room if you suspect meningitis in a young child who has the following symptoms:

  • Feeding difficulties
  • High-pitched cry
  • Irritability
  • Persistent unexplained fever

Call the local emergency number if you develop any of the serious symptoms listed above. Meningitis can quickly become a life-threatening illness.

Prevention

All family and close contacts (especially in health care or school settings) of people with this type of meningitis should begin antibiotic treatment as soon as possible to prevent spread of the infection. Ask your health care provider about this during the first visit.

Close contacts in the same household, school, or day care center should be watched for early signs of the disease as soon as the first case is diagnosed. Always use good hygiene habits, such as washing hands before and after changing a diaper, or after using the bathroom.

Vaccines are effective for controlling epidemics. They are currently recommended for:

  • Adolescents
  • College students in their first year living in dormitories
  • Military recruits
  • Travelers to certain parts of the world

References

  1. Swartz MN. Meningitis: bacterial, viral, and other. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 437.
  2. Prober CG, Dyner L. Central nervous system infections. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 595.

Review Date: 8/15/2012.

Reviewed by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Polysaccharide vaccines for preventing serogroup A meningococcal meningitisPolysaccharide vaccines for preventing serogroup A meningococcal meningitis
    Meningococcal meningitis is a brain infection caused by bacteria living in the back of the throat. The bacteria can cause infection of the blood (septicaemia) and of the brain coverings (meningitis). Infection can progress very quickly to damage the brain and can be fatal. The polysaccharide vaccine is strongly protective in children over five years and in adults. Whilst the vaccine is also protective in children aged three months to five years, in low‐income countries the level of protection in children of this age group is not very clear.
See all (3) ...

Figures

  • Meningococcal lesions on the back.

PubMed Health Blog...

read all...

MedlinePlus.gov links to free, reliable, up-to-date health information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other trusted health organizations.

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...