Meningococcus, the bacteria with epidemic potential – Deutsche Welle – 09/01/2023

In the US state of Virginia, health authorities registered a “meningococcal outbreak”. Since June 2022, 30 people have fallen ill, three times the normal rate for the same period. In addition, five people have died, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health.

Dangerous for immunosuppressed people

About one in ten adults is a carrier of meningococcus (N. meningitidis). Meningococci are divided into at least 12 so-called serogroups, five of which cause the most disease: A, B, C, W and Y. Serogroup “B” was the most commonly diagnosed, accounting for 66%.

If a person has a strong immune system and childhood vaccinations are effective, the infection goes undetected. However, if the disease manifests itself, it may cause brain damage, hearing loss, or cognitive impairment.

Meningitis is the result of meningococcal infection

In two-thirds of cases, the disease progresses to meningitis. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), meningococcal bacteria are the most common cause of bacterial meningitis. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa, outbreaks are recurring, with incidence rates as high as 1000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

Sepsis, which is blood poisoning, can also be caused by infection. In some cases, amputation is required. These serious outcomes occur in about one in five infected people. About ten percent of meningococcal infections are even fatal.

Meningococcal spread by droplets

Meningococcal bacteria colonize the throat and nasal passages. The incubation period is three to four days, but in individual cases it may be two to ten days.

Meningococcal bacteria can be passed from one infected person to another by coughing, sneezing or shaking hands. It can also happen during kissing. Carriers are contagious and can spread the germs even if they are not sick themselves.

Initial symptoms are usually nonspecific. They are often similar to the flu or common cold. Then a high fever, sensitivity to light, and a stiff neck develop. Bleeding may also appear in the skin, usually from the legs.

Meningococcal vaccine protects

Babies and young children are especially vulnerable to meningococcal infection because their immune systems are not yet as strong as those of adults.

People living in small spaces such as small apartments, group housing or refugee camps are also at high risk because of the way the bacteria spread.

The World Health Organization recommends the following hygiene measures, such as regular hand washing and vaccinations.


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