Meningococcal Infections (Neisseria meningitides)

Meningococcal infections are caused by bacterium called Neisseria Meningitidis. This germ is often spread to others through airborne respiratory droplets formed when coughing or sneezing. People infected with this germ can develop serious and sometimes life-threatening infections, such as meningitis (infection of the brain lining and spinal cord) and septicemia (infection of the blood). Even with prompt medical treatment, meningococcal infections can be fatal. Those who survive the disease can suffer from permanent brain damage, loss of limbs (arms, legs or digits) and/or neurologic disabilities including hearing loss, seizures, paralysis and developmental cysts.

Protecting Our Tomorrows: Portraits of Meningococcal Disease is a global awareness project, sponsored by GSK.

The project uses thought-provoking and inspiring photographs captured by world-renowned photographer and children's advocate, Anne Geddes. This image is of a young boy named Harvey who contracted meningococcal disease when he was just 2 years old. After months in hospital, he lost both his legs and all the fingers on his right hand to this aggressive disease.

Meningococcus
Symptoms

Many people with meningococcal infection do not have any symptoms and do not become sick. The most common form of meningococcal infection is the carrier state, when a person has the bacteria on the lining of the nose or throat but does not develop symptoms of the disease. A person may remain a carrier of the same strain for up to six months. But sometimes, the germ can overcome the body's defences and cause illness. When symptoms appear, they include a characteristic rash, high fever, bad headache, upset stomach, weakness, drowsiness and stiff neck. For some people, bright light hurts their eyes, and they may feel confused and very tired. In really severe cases, coma (i.e. loss of consciousness) can also occur.

Causes

Meningococcal infections are caused by a bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis. Some people may carry the germ in their nose and throat. They can pass it to others through respiratory droplets formed when coughing or sneezing. The infection can also be passed by kissing or sharing items such as cigarettes, lipstick, musical instruments, water bottles, food/drinks and other items that have been in the mouth of a person with meningococcal disease.

Treatment

There are antibiotics available to treat meningococcal infection. Depending on the severity of hte infection, other treatments may be required, including breathing support and wound care for damaged skin. It is vital to start treatment as soon as possible.

Prevention

Meningococcal infection caused by some bacteria can be prevented through immunization. Manitoba has a provincial immunization program that provides protection against five different types of meningococcal bacteria (A, B, C, Y and W-135), free-of-charge to those who are eligible.

Other precautions can be taken, including practicing good hand hygiene, covering your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze and avoiding sharing of personal items such as water bottles, lip gloss and cigarettes.

It is important to see your doctor if you become ill after coming into contact with someone diagnosed with a meningococcal infection. Individuals who have meningococcal infection will be asked for a list of their contacts who will be offered a special antibiotic to prevent them from becoming ill.

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