What is Meningococcemia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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Meningococcemia, also known as meningococcal bacteremia, is a very serious health condition caused by the presence of meningococcal bacteria in the bloodstream. Left untreated, the condition can be rapidly fatal and even in patients who receive treatment fatality rates can be high. Patients usually develop this condition in childhood, although it can appear in people of any age. People who live in crowded environments such as dormitories and barracks are at increased risk of being infected with the bacteria which cause this condition.

Meningococcal bacteria are also responsible for meningitis, an infection of the brain. When these bacteria colonize the body the immune system often keep them at bay, but sometimes they can multiply too quickly for the immune system and spread into the bloodstream. When they enter the bloodstream, the bacteria cause vasculitis, in which the blood vessels become inflamed, and they can also cause disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). DIC is a very dangerous disorder in which blood all over the body starts to clot and it can lead very rapidly to death.

Patients develop meningococcemia within two days to two weeks of the initial infection. The symptoms start with a fever and muscle aches. Gradually the patient begins to develop chills, fatigue, and petechiae, small spots on the skin caused by leaking blood vessels. Widespread internal bleeding can also occur, along with low blood pressure. Eventually the internal organs will become damaged and the damage can progress beyond repair.


To treat meningococcemia, antibiotics need to be administered as quickly as possible. Because it can take time to culture the blood and get results, some doctors recommend providing treatment before a positive diagnosis has been received, under the argument that it may be too late to treat if they wait for confirmation. The patient may also need supportive therapies to address organ damage and other complications related to meningococcemia.

When meningococcemia is addressed early enough, fatality rates can be as low as five to 10 percent. If it is accompanied with DIC, the fatality rate can climb as high as 90%. Prompt diagnosis is critical, as is rapid treatment from a health care provider.

People can radically reduce their chances of developing a meningococcal infection by receiving a vaccine which protects against many strains of the bacteria. In addition, observing basic sanitation, especially in areas like schools and military barracks, is highly advised. If someone appears to developing the symptoms of meningococcemia, he or she should be taken for medical treatment immediately.



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Post 2

Okay, I've never heard of disseminated intravascular coagulation before, but I think it's going to give me nightmares tonight. It cannot be a good thing for all of your blood to just start clotting. I mean, obviously it's not based on the 90% fatality rate when someone with meningococcemia develops DIC. Scary stuff!

Post 1

When I lived on campus as a college freshman, I was required to get vaccinated against this illness. I was happy to do it. When I was younger, there was a student at a local elementary school who died from meningitis. After that, I was always scared of getting it!

I think it's probably smart they just start treating people with the symptoms before a positive diagnosis is made. I think it's better to give antibiotics and have the person not need it than to delay and have the person die or something!

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