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Signs & Symptoms

Meningococcal Meningitis

A common outcome of meningococcal infection is meningitis. When caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria it is known as meningococcal meningitis. When someone has meningococcal meningitis, the protective membranes covering their brain and spinal cord, known as the meninges, become infected and swell. The symptoms include sudden onset of fever, headache, and stiff neck. There are often additional symptoms, such as

Teenage girl consoling friend

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Photophobia (increased sensitivity to light)
  • Altered mental status (confusion)

The symptoms of meningococcal meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. Typically they develop within 3-7 days after exposure.

In newborns and infants, the classic symptoms of fever, headache, and neck stiffness may be absent or difficult to notice. The infant may appear to be slow or inactive, irritable, vomiting or feeding poorly. In young children, doctors may also look at the child’s reflexes, which can also be a sign of meningitis.

If you think you or your infant or child has any of these symptoms, call the doctor right away.

Meningococcal meningitis is very serious and can be fatal. In fatal cases, deaths can occur in as little as a few hours. In non-fatal cases, permanent disabilities can include hearing loss and brain damage.

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Meningococcal Septicemia (aka Meningococcemia)

Another common outcome of meningococcal infection is bloodstream infection, either septicemia or bacteremia. The more serious of the two is septicemia. When caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria it is known as meningococcal septicemia or meningococcemia. This is the more dangerous and deadly illness caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. When someone has meningococcal septicemia, the bacteria enter the bloodstream and multiply, damaging the walls of the blood vessels and causing bleeding into the skin and organs.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Cold chills
  • Severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest or abdomen (belly)
  • Rapid breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • In the later stages, a dark purple rash (see photos)

If you think you or your infant or child has any of these symptoms, call the doctor right away.

Meningococcal septicemia is very serious and can be fatal. In fatal cases, deaths can occur in as little as a few hours. In non-fatal cases, permanent disabilities can include amputation of toes, fingers, or limbs or severe scarring as a result of skin grafts.

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