What is Meningococcal Septicemia?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2016
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Meningococcal septicemia is a type of blood poisoning. It results when the meningitis bacteria, called Neisseria meningitides invades the bloodstream and begins to destroy all the tissues in the body. This is an extremely serious condition with a 40% death rate and 20% chance of requiring amputation of the limbs or extremities. It is therefore important to understand how to recognize and to be fully cognizant that signs of this illness warrant getting emergency medical attention.

The symptoms of meningococcal septicemia are not all the same as the symptoms of meningitis. Meningitis presents with very sore throat, stiff neck, high fever, and sensitivity to light. These symptoms need to be treated immediately, but they’re not the same symptoms associated with septicemia. Instead, those suspecting septicemia should look for nausea or vomiting, fever, confusion, extreme fatigue or drowsiness, sore throat, cold hands and feet, trembling, off-color skin that may look pale, gray or splotchy, pain, rapid breathing, and a rash that starts out looking like pin pricks and then turns purple.

Not everyone with meningococcal septicemia will have all symptoms, but presence of extreme confusion, lethargy and high fever is always a good reason to contact a doctor. People are also most prone to this condition when they are teens and young adults between the ages of 15-25 and when they are five years old or under. However, anybody can get the condition. Also, most cases occur in late winter or early spring.


Since even skilled doctors can miss meningococcal septicemia, parents or caregivers may want to inform doctors they suspect it. If possible, point to things like a pinpoint rash or the varied symptoms a child or teen has that have caused the alarm. Doctors can certainly test for it, and they usually don’t withhold treatment if they’re unsure, since initial treatment is to give antibiotics. Other treatments could be required like respiratory support, fluids, and potentially limb amputation if a limb becomes severely affected. Hospitalization will be required for a while so the infection fully clears, and even with treatment, not all patients make it.

There are a couple of things people can do to lower their risk for getting meningococcal septicemia. There are vaccines that protect against some of the strains that cause meningitis and septicemia. They don’t protect against all of them, but they may confer important protection to everyone. Some other important precautions include protecting others by not sending children that are ill to school, and making certain to follow basic hygienic practices like not sharing food, and washing hands frequently.


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