Meningococcemia is an acute contagious disease that is caused by Neisseria meningitides bacteria and spread through close contact. It is also known as meningococcal meningitis or cerebrospinal fever. In the Philippines, the disease became familiarly known as meningo after an outbreak in Baguio during the Christmas season of 2004.
The disease affects the blood, the cerebral lining, and the spinal column, and may be fatal if not treated early. In its severest form or fulminant meningococcemia, the disease causes hemorrhagic rashes, lowering of blood pressure, and sudden shock, leading to fatality.
The following are possible symptoms of meningococcemia. Many are similar to the symptoms of meningitis. In some cases, though, no obvious symptoms of the disease are observed.
- sudden onset of high fever
- stiff neck
- unstable mental condition
- nausea and vomiting
- sore throat, cough, and other respiratory ailments
- pinpoint rashes which start appearing on the arms and legs within 24 hours after onset of fever and grow wider and look like bruises
- large patches that look like bruises
- major lesions on the skin which may be infected with gangrene
- erratic vital signs
- in infants, swelling of the fontanelle
To confirm the presence of the disease, blood or spinal fluid may be tested for the presence of the bacterium.
Mode of transmission
Meningococcemia is usually spread through close contact. The bacteria are present in the saliva and mucous of the one who has the disease and can be passed on to one who has direct contact with the oral or nasal excretions of the infected person. However, the bacteria can only survive very briefly outside of the body so it is unlikely to be passed through the handling of objects.
Penicillin can be used to treat the disease if it is detected early enough. Chloramphenicol may be substituted for penicillin in case of an allergy.
The incubation period of meningococcemia lasts from 2-10 days. The disease occurs mainly in children, but may also occur among adults, especially those in overcrowded spaces. Cases are usually contained among members of a household who have close contact with each other. More males than females tend to contract the disease.
Aside from practicing good hygiene and a healthy lifestyle, there are several measures that must be taken to avoid catching the disease. The spread of meningococcemia may be prevented by isolating persons with the disease. Avoid close contact with the infected person and handling of personal items that may have come in contact with his or her nose or mouth. Do not stay in crowded places. A vaccination is available but is not considered to have a prolonged effect.
Cases in the Philippines
The disease was spotlighted after some cases reported in Baguio and the Cordilleras from the end of 2004 to early 2005 resulting in more than 50 deaths. The crowds that flocked to the area during the Christmas season were considered a main contributing factor to the outbreak. Coming on the heels of the SARS epidemic and reputed to be even more contagious, the meningococcemia outbreak, though not really considered an epidemic by health authorities, caused panic and led to the disease becoming widely known among Filipinos as “meningo.” Efforts to contain the spread of the disease included the distribution of antibiotics and the clean-up of the public marketplace. Fear of the disease has lingered for a year or so after, with deaths attributed to meningo making it to the national dailies. In November 2008, a 17-year-old Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) councilor in a village in Magpet, North Cotabato died of meningococcemia, again raising concern about the disease.
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