About the disease
"I've seen cases where someone has been well at breakfast - and dead by dinner!" – Dr Clayton Golledge, Microbiologist and Infectious Diseases expert
Meningococcal disease is an
acute bacterial infection that can cause death within hours if not recognised
and treated in time. Although the majority of victims will recover fully, 5-10%
of those infected will die, and around 20% will have permanent disabilities,
ranging from learning difficulties, sight and hearing problems, to amputations
One of the reasons this disease is hard to identify is that it can appear in several different forms, depending on which part of the body the bacteria invade. There can be meningitis or septicaemia, or a combination of both.
Meningococcal disease can appear in several different forms – as meningitis, as septicaemia (blood poisoning), or as a combination of both.
Meningitis (bacterial form)
Inflammation of the lining of the brain
and spinal cord (the 'meninges'). Symptoms may include a severe headache,
fever, fatigue, stiff neck, sensitivity to light or convulsions.
There are many different forms of meningitis –- including fungal, viral and bacterial. The bacterial form of meningitis is the most serious.
Meningococcal meningitis can result in permanent disabilities – such as deafness or brain injury – and can in some cases cause death.
Meningitis is not the same as meningococcal disease. There are many different types of meningitis. It's the more dangerous bacterial form which may appear as meningococcal disease.
Septicemia (blood poisoning)
This is the more dangerous and deadly of the two illnesses. It happens when the bacteria enter the bloodstream and multiply uncontrollably, damaging the walls of blood vessels to cause bleeding into the tissues and skin (which results in the distinctive rash).
Symptoms may include fever, fatigue, vomiting, cold
hands and feet, cold shivers, severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints,
chest or abdomen, rapid breathing, diarrhoea – and, in the later stages, a
pinprick or purple bruise-like rash (see The rash).
Septicemia can lead to death within hours, or permanent disabilities such as severe scarring and amputation of the fingers, toes, even arms and legs - due to lack of blood circulation in the extremities of the body.
One of the stages of the distinctive meningococcal rash (bleeding into the skin) which can be a critical symptom of deadly septicemia (blood poisoning).
Copy courtesy Meningococcal Education Inc