The bacteria of the species Neisseria meningitidis – also known as meningococci – are gram-negative diplococci that settle in the nasopharyngeal cavity of humans. Within a few hours they can become life-threatening. They usually cause purulent meningitis or sepsis and are most common in infants and young people. In principle, however, anyone can fall ill. Patients who are suspected of having meningitis or sepsis must go to hospital immediately.
Outside the body, the pathogens die quickly. Transmission takes place only via a particularly close contact to a germ carrier. The most frequent cause is a droplet infection. The pathogen enters the air in the form of small droplets, spread by speaking, coughing or sneezing, and can thus be inhaled. A smear infection is also possible, through contact with nasal secretion or with saliva during kissing, for example. A weakened immune defence, poor hygienic conditions or cramped living conditions increase the risk of infection.
The incubation period is usually three to four days and can be up to ten days. Two thirds of cases are meningitis. Approximately one third of patients develop sepsis (blood poisoning), which can be particularly severe in 10 to 15 percent of cases in the form of a septic shock. This disease progression often leads to death. A mixed form of both variants is also possible. At first, unspecific flu-like symptoms appear. In addition, patients usually suffer from headaches, high fever, nausea, sensitivity to light, neck stiffness or spots of bleeding under the skin (petechiae).
Patients are isolated until 24 hours after the start of antibiotic therapy. During this time, the nursing staff and the attending physicians must implement the following hygiene measures: hand hygiene, wearing protective gloves and a protective coat that remains in the patient’s room. In the case of close patient contact and possible exposure to secretions from the neck and throat of the patient, suitable respiratory protection is also required.
The required spectrum of action against Neisseria meningitidis is: bactericidal