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Diseases reference index «Meningococcemia»

Meningococcemia is an acute and potentially life-threatening infection of the bloodstream that commonly leads to inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis).

See also: Septicemia


Meningococcemia is caused by a bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. The bacteria frequently lives in a person's upper respiratory tract without causing visible signs of illness. The bacteria can be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets -- for example, you may become infected if you are around someone with the condition when they sneeze or cough.

Family members and those closely exposed to someone with the condition are at increased risk. The infection occurs more frequently in winter and early spring.


There may be few symptoms at first. Some may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Spotty red or purple rash (petechiae)

Additional symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Later symptoms may include:

  • Changing level of consciousness
  • Ill appearance
  • Large areas of bleeding under the skin (purpura)
  • Shock

Exams and Tests

Blood tests will be done to rule out other infections and help confirm meningococcemia. Such tests may include:

  • Blood culture
  • Complete blood count with differential
  • Clotting studies (PT, PTT)

Other tests that may be done include:

  • Lumbar puncture to obtain spinal fluid sample for CSF culture
  • Skin biopsy and gram stain
  • Urinalysis


Persons with this type of infection are often admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital, where they are closely monitored. The person may be placed in respiratory isolation for the first 24 hours to help prevent the spread of the infection to others.

Treatments may include:

  • Antibiotics given through a vein (IV)
  • Breathing support
  • Clotting factors or platelet replacement -- if bleeding disorders develop
  • Fluids through a vein (IV)
  • Medications to treat blood pressure problems
  • Wound care for areas of skin with blood clots

Outlook (Prognosis)

Early treatment results in a good outcome. When shock develops, the outcome is less certain.

The condition is most life threatening in those who have:

  • Disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC) - a severe bleeding disorder
  • Kidney failure
  • Profound shock

Patients who do not develop meningitis also tend to have a poorer outcome.

Possible Complications

  • Arthritis
  • Blood clotting that leads to the loss of the arms or legs
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC)
  • Inflammation of blood vessels in the skin (cutaneous vasculitis)
  • Irreversible shock
  • Pericarditis
  • Profound shock
  • Severe damage to adrenal glands that can lead to low blood pressure (Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome)

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Go to the emergency room immediately if you have symptoms of meningococcemia. Call your doctor if you have been around someone with the disease.


Preventive antibiotics for family members and contacts are often recommended. Speak with your health care provider about this option.

A vaccine that covers some -- but not all -- strains of meningococcus is available, and has been suggested for use by college students who live in dormitories. You should discuss the appropriate use of this vaccine with your health care provider.

Alternative Names

Meningococcal septicemia; Meningococcal blood poisoning; Meningococcal bacteremia

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