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Meningococcal Infections

What are meningococcal infections?

Meningococcal infections are caused by a group of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. The most common forms of meningococcal infections include meningitis (infection of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord) and blood stream infections. Meningococcal infections are usually uncommon, but potentially fatal.

How are meningococcal infections transmitted?

The Neisseria meningitidis bacteria are spread through close contact with infected individuals. Droplets in the air from a sneeze or close conversation can be inhaled and may cause infection. Many individuals who acquire the bacteria in their nose and throat never develop symptoms. In rare cases, the bacteria proliferate rapidly causing serious illness in both children and adults.

What are the symptoms of meningococcal infections?

The following are the most common symptoms of meningococcal infections. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of meningococcal meningitis and meningococcemia may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How are meningococcal meningitis and meningococcemia diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic studies for meningococcal meningitis and meningococcemia may include:

Treatment for meningococcal infections:

Specific treatment for meningococcal infections will be determined by your child's physician based on:

Prompt treatment is imperative with meningococcal infections. Antibiotics (i.e., penicillin) are most commonly used. If a child has severe allergies to penicillin, other antibiotics may be used to treat the infection. Five to seven days of antibiotic therapy is usually effective. A child with meningococcal meningitis or meningococcemia may require close observation in a hospital or intensive care unit (ICU).

Other treatment for meningococcal infections is supportive (aimed at treating the symptoms present). A child with severe infection may require supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation to assist with breathing. If a child develops severe bleeding, he/she may require blood transfusions.

Prevention of meningococcal infections:

There is a meningococcal vaccine that is currently only used for high-risk groups. Immunization for the bacteria is not widespread due to its uncommon occurrence. Persons who may require immunization include the following:

A hospitalized child will require isolation for 24 hours after antibiotics have been administered. Family members or individuals that have been in close contact with a child with meningococcal disease may require antibiotics. If you have questions about exposure, please consult your child's physician. The CDC recommends the following contacts be treated if exposed to the bacteria:

Cases of meningococcal disease should be reported to your local public health department. They will provide education to you and your family, as well as to the public.

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