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Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis

Early diagnosis and treatment are very important. If meningococcal disease is suspected, samples of blood or cerebrospinal fluid (fluid near the spinal cord; see image below) are collected and sent to the laboratory for testing. It is important to know if it is meningococcal disease because the severity of illness and the treatment will change depending on the cause. In the case of meningococcal disease, antibiotics can help prevent severe illness and reduce the chances a close contact will also develop disease.

If Neisseria meningitidis bacteria are present, they can be grown (cultured). Growing the bacteria in the laboratory is important for confirming the presence of bacteria, identifying the specific type of bacteria that is causing the infection, and deciding which antibiotic will work best. Other tests can sometimes detect and identify the bacteria if the cultures do not.

Treatment

Meningococcal disease can be treated with a number of effective antibiotics. It is important that treatment be started as soon as possible. If meningococcal disease is suspected, antibiotics are given right away. Antibiotic treatment should reduce the risk of dying, but sometimes the infection has caused too much damage to the body for antibiotics to prevent death or serious long-term problems. Even with antibiotic treatment, people die in about 10-15% of cases. About 11-19% of survivors will have long-term disabilities, such as loss of limb(s), deafness, nervous system problems, or brain damage.

Depending on how serious the infection is, other treatments may also be necessary. These can include such things as breathing support, medications to treat low blood pressure, and wound care for parts of the body with damaged skin.


Lumbar puncture to collect sample of cerebrospinal fluid

Lumbar puncture to collect sample of cerebrospinal fluid.

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