Meningococcal is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitides. The pathogen of this disease remains harmless in a large number of the general population, but can then invade the bloodstream and the brain causing serious illness.
There can be two different forms of meningococcal depending on which part of the body the bacteria invade. There can be Meningitis or Septicaemia, or a combination of both. Meningitis is caused by an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. There are many different forms of Meningitis, however it is only the more serious bacterial form that causes meningococcal. Septicaemia is the more dangerous of the two forms and occurs when bacteria enters the bloodstream and multiplies uncontrollably. This damages the walls of the blood vessels and causes bleeding into the skin.
Meningococcal disease is transmitted via saliva. Around 20% of the population will carry the bacteria for meningococcal in their throat and nose without ever becoming ill, which is known as being a healthy carrier and almost everyone will carry the bacteria at some point in their life. The bacteria are spread by activities such as kissing, coughing, sneezing and sharing of foods or drinks. Places where children or young adults are in close contact are at highest risk of spreading the disease. Babies and toddlers account for two thirds of the cases, due to a low immune system and easy spread of germs throughout their population. Young adults from the ages of 15-25 are at high risk of infection due to the socially interactive lifestyle they live.
Over the past few years experts have made an intensive effort to understand specific aspects of the host interactions within the meningococcal bacteria. The occurrence of invasive cases of the disease among a large population may be explained by host factors. Genetic abnormalities in host response to infection are recognised to play a role in the susceptibility to infectious diseases. There is evidence host genetic component to meningococcal disease showing that genetics can determine both susceptibility and outcome of the disease.
Because of the wide range of possible symptoms, meningococcal can be hard to identify at first. Often but not all the time, the early symptoms of the disease are similar to that of the flu- a severe headache, fever, sore throat and lack of energy. The early symptoms depend on whether the disease starts off as meningitis or septicaemia.
Meningicoccal needs to be treated as soon as possible which is why it is important to be aware of all the early symptoms which include; Nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, irritability, body aches, stiff or painful neck, sensitivity to light, twitching, fever with cold hands or feet, muscle pains, pale blotchy skin, rapid breathing, diarrhoea or a rash. Many people believe the rash is the first warning sign of meningococcal however this is a misconception and it is vital that help is sought if any of the symptoms occur. The appearance of the distinctive rash is in fact often one of the final symptoms of deadly meningococcal, meaning that medical treatment is needed immediately.
While the majority of meningococcal sufferers will make a full recovery, around 10% will die and 20% will suffer devastating long term effects such as; memory loss, concentration problems, mood swings, sight problems, deafness, learning difficulties, epilepsy, chronic fatigue, liver or kidney failure, paralysis, skin scarring or amputated limbs, fingers or toes.