Meningococcemia is caused by bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. The bacteria often live in a person's upper respiratory tract without causing visible signs of illness. They can be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. For example, you may become infected if you are around someone with the condition and they sneeze or cough.
Family members and those closely exposed to someone with the condition are at increased risk. The infection occurs more often in winter and early spring.
There may be few symptoms at first. Some may include:
Meningococcemia is a medical emergency. People with this infection are often admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital, where they are closely monitored. They may be placed in respiratory isolation for the first 24 hours to help prevent the spread of the infection to others.
Go to the emergency room immediately if you have symptoms of meningococcemia. Call your health care provider 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 recommended for children age 11 or 12. A booster is given at age 16. Unvaccinated college students who live in dormitories should also consider receiving this vaccine. It should be given a few weeks before they first move into the dorm. Talk to your provider about the appropriate use of this vaccine.
Stephens DS, Apicella MA. Neisseria meningitidis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2014:chap 213.
Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Associate Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.