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Meningococcal Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention, & Treatment!

India has reported more than 50,000 cases of Meningococcal Meningitis in the last ten years, with over 3,000 deaths.

Imagine you wake up with a headache, stiff neck, and fever. As soon as you consult your doctor, you know you have contracted a deadly infection. It is an infection that can cause sepsis, brain infection, and even death. Scary, right? It is the reality faced by many people infected with Meningococcal disease.

Although not usually heard, Meningococcal Meningitis is a severe and life-threatening condition. Most people are unaware of this disease; this article is all you need if you are one of such individuals. It will provide you with a better understanding of what Meningococcal disease is. It will also show how it affects the affected person's lifestyle. Reading below will assist you in learning the causes and symptoms of this disease. It will also answer a common query of whether this disease can get treated and if one can protect themself from it.

What is Meningococcal Meningitis?

To understand Meningococcal Meningitis, one must have a brief understanding of meninges. Meninges are the three membranes that cover the central nervous system. These membranes are thin layers of tissue protecting the brain and spinal cord. The three membranes are arachnoid, pia mater, and dura mater. Meningococcal meningitis is an infection caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. This disease is also known as Meningococcal disease/septicemia. The bacteria causing it is also called meningococcus. The Neisseria meningitidis bacteria infects the blood and meninges in this condition.

Meningococcal septicemia is a severe condition that can even be fatal. But, specific individuals are more likely to get this disease than others. For example, babies under one year, teenagers, and early adults are at a higher risk. They become more susceptible if exposed to cigarette smoke for an extended period. Individuals with injured or no spleen can also get contracted by this disease. Sickle cell disease also makes individuals more prone to get this infection.

If this infection is so severe, it must get detected early. The first step for its early detection is its symptoms. To learn about these symptoms, continue reading the next section of this article.

Symptoms of Meningococcal Disease

Recognizing the symptoms of Meningococcal disease is essential. Early recognition of symptoms leads to early diagnosis. It ensures that it gets treated on time. Some common symptoms are-

  • Stiff neck

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Photophobia

  • Vomiting

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhoea

  • Dark red and purple rashes that look like bruises

Some other symptoms of this disease are-

  • Loss of appetite

  • Sleepy feeling

  • Joint aches

  • Muscle pain

  • Trouble staying upright

  • Irritable nature

  • Grunting

  • Trouble walking

As you are now aware of Meningococcal disease, you might be curious to know what causes it. It is what the next part of this post will introduce you to.

Causes of Meningococcal Disease

The bacterium Neisseria meningitidis can live in the throat and nose without harm. But, in some individuals, this bacterium can cause Meningococcal disease. Meningococcus can spread between individuals through saliva, respiratory secretions, and other means. It can also get caused if a person's immune system gets weakened due to severe diseases such as cancer and HIV. People taking immunosuppressive medications are also prone to this disease. Traveling to endemic areas can also get exposed to Meningococcal infection.

Genetics can also be one of the Meningococcal Meningitis causes. An individual might have a genetic predisposition to Meningococcal disease. It can be due to certain genetic factors affecting the body's ability to fight infections. Reading above must have made you realize the severity of Meningococcal disease.

We understand that reading above must have made you wonder if it can get treated. To find the answer, read the next section of this article. It discusses the options available for Meningococcal Meningitis treatment.

Is there a treatment?

Yes, there is! Treatment for Meningococcal Meningitis is available. Doctors treat this condition with the help of several antibiotics. If an individual gets suspected of having Meningococcal disease, they get prescribed antibiotics.

Drug treatment begins even before confirmation to ensure an early onset of treatment. Treatment for this disease might also include other therapies. These get included to treat other health conditions caused by Meningococcal disease like -

  • Oxygen therapy to help with breathing

  • Medication to treat low blood pressure

  • Surgeries and other treatments to treat dead or damaged skin

It is good that this disease can get treated. But, you can take some precautionary steps to prevent yourself and those near you. These steps are discussed in this post's next and final section.

How can one protect themselves?

Practicing avoidance and infection prevention is a must to prevent this disease. But the following are some other ways to the prevention of Meningococcal disease:

  • Vaccination

Yes, the Meningococcal Meningitis vaccine is available. It can protect you from Meningococcal disease. In India, vaccination with MenACWY is available. It protects against four types of Meningococcal infections. These four types are- type A, C, W, and Y. This vaccine gets administered to kids at 11 or 12 years. A booster dose gets administered at the age of 16 years. Teens between the age of 13 to 18 years can also get vaccinated if they have yet to get it. In such cases, the ones who get their first dose between the age of 13 to 15 years get their booster dose between 16 and 18. But, if one gets the first dose after 16, a booster dose is not required.

  • Antibiotics

Some drugs make an individual more susceptible to getting Meningococcal disease. These include medicines used for conditions like-

1. Atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome

2. Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria

3. Generalized myasthenia gravis.

To prevent this, doctors prescribe antibiotics with these drugs. Doctors also prescribe preventive antibiotics to people living close to an infected person.

Final Thoughts

Caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria, Meningococcal disease is a severe, life-threatening condition. The severity of this disease makes its early detection crucial. This post must have briefed you on the symptoms, causes, treatment options, and prevention of this disease. It will help you know when to see a doctor as soon as you observe meningococcal signs. Prompt care and treatment can cure and reduce this fatal condition's impact.


The Author : Dr. Sunil Khattri

+91 9811618704

Dr Sunil Khattri MBBS, MS(General Surgery), LLB, is a Medical doctor and is a practicing Advocate in the Supreme Court of India and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi.

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