Protect yourself From Meningococcemia

By: Janet Martin

It occurs suddenly and spreads rapidly. It can affect anyone. It's called meningococcemia and you could be its next victim!

Meningococcemia - also known as mmeningococcal septicemia, meningococcal blood poisoning or meningococcal bacteremia - is a rare disease caused by the presence of the meningococcus bacteria (formally called Neisseria meningitidis) in the bloodstream.

The bacteria often live in the upper respiratory tract and cause no symptoms. In most people, it provides a long-lasting immunity against the disease. The bad news is these people can become long-term carriers and spread the disease to others. In susceptible individuals, the bacteria can penetrate into the bloodstream and spread throughout the body, causing a severe illness that can kill within hours.

Meningococcemia is transmitted from person to person by airborne droplets coming from infected people who sneeze, cough or talk near your face. Close, prolonged contact is necessary for transmission to take place. For intimate contacts like kissing an infected person, your chances of getting the disease increase a thousand fold. But there is very little risk in acquiring meningococcemia from the personal belongings of an infected person. This also means you can't get the disease from public toilets or by handling other objects.

The disease commonly occurs in children and young adults. It usually affects males than females. In epidemics, however, anyone can be affected.

Following infection, symptoms can develop within one day to one to two weeks and include sudden, high fever that lasts for 24 hours and spotty red or purple rashes that appear within 24 hours after the fever. This is caused by small blood vessel wall damage (vasculitis).

Unfortunately, during this early stage, the doctor can't tell if you really have meningococcemia since these early symptoms mimic those of other diseases like dengue, influenza, and measles. Within hours, as the bacteria continue to multiply in the bloodstream, you may experience continued fever, shaking chills, large bleeding areas on the skin (purpura), weakness, and low blood pressure. The patient may cough up blood, have nose bleeds, and blood in the urine caused by damage to other internal organs.

Meningococcemia not only damages the blood vessels by causing them to leak, but also causes clotting inside the vessels. If this clotting occurs in the large arteries, it results in major tissue damage. Even if the patient is treated at this point, there is a high risk of death from complications that include profound and irreversible shock, and limb loss secondary to clots (thrombosis).

If you suspect you have meningococcemia, have been exposed to someone who has the disease or have traveled to places where there is high risk of contracting the disease, see a doctor at once. Early diagnosis through blood cultures and other tests can confirm the disease and treatment with antibiotics can save your life. Don't self-medicate and don't wait for things to get worse. Above all, don't panic. Meningococcemia can be treated and prevented.

A vaccine is available but it is expensive and offers limited protection. The following protective measures may help:

Avoid close contact with infected people.
Stay away from crowded places.
Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.
Don't use the eating utensils of an infected person.
Wash hands frequently with soap and water.
Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet.
Exercise regularly.
Get enough rest and sleep.
Avoid alcohol and cigarette smoking.
Keep your surroundings clean.

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