Invasive meningococcal disease: Symptoms and treatment

Invasive meningococcal disease and its symptoms are caused by bacteria.

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Symptoms of invasive meningococcal disease

Symptoms of invasive meningococcal disease can develop 2 to 10 days after being infected with the bacteria (usually after 3 to 4 days). The 2 most common types of the disease are:

  1. meningococcal meningitis: an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord which causes swelling
  2. meningococcal sepsis or meningococcemia: an infection in the blood that damages the walls of the blood vessels and causes organ failure

Both are extremely serious and require urgent hospital attention. Complications and death can happen very rapidly.

Meningococcal meningitis

Common symptoms of meningitis can include:

Other common symptoms can include:

Symptoms can also include a purple or red rash with small, flat pink areas, and sometimes blisters.

Meningitis may present differently in newborns and babies. They may:

Seek immediate medical attention if you or your child have these symptoms.

Meningococcal sepsis

Symptoms of sepsis can include a sudden onset of:

Symptoms also include sudden severe aches or pain in the:

Another symptom of sepsis is a skin rash that spreads rapidly and begins as either:

Seek immediate medical attention if you or your child have these symptoms.

Complications of invasive meningococcal disease

Invasive meningococcal disease can be very severe and can require intensive care. About 14% of people with any type of the disease will die.

About 20% of people who recover from the disease will have long-term disabilities, such as:

If you become ill

If you or your child develop symptoms of meningococcal disease, contact a health care provider immediately or go to your local emergency room. Make sure to tell them if you have travelled recently.

Diagnosing invasive meningococcal disease

If a health care provider suspects meningococcal disease, they'll collect a sample to confirm the diagnosis with lab tests. The tests can include:

This will help a health care provider decide which antibiotic to give, make the correct diagnosis and offer appropriate care.

Treating invasive meningococcal disease

Meningococcal disease is a serious infection. You may need to go to hospital for close monitoring and additional supportive care.

Treatment with antibiotics as soon as possible is most effective.

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