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What is Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal disease refers to any illness caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis.1 There are six common serogroups of bacteria that cause most meningococcal disease worldwide - A, B, C, W, X and Y.2 The primary mode of transmission of Neisseria meningitidis is through respiratory droplet spread or by direct contact with respiratory secretions.2

Mechanism of Action

Based on structural differences of the polysaccharide capsule, bacteria are classified into serogroups.1 Neisseria meningitidis uses the polysaccharide capsule to evade destruction by the immune system, using a protective shell to prevent binding of the complement system that could otherwise initiate lysis and phagocytosis. The complement-bacterium complex is called the C3b.3 Evasion can be enhanced by other methods including mimicry of host molecules, recruiting factor H and its genetic diversity.3

Figure 1: Polysaccharide capsule mechanism. Adapted from Tan LKK, Carlone GM, Borrow R. Advances in the development of vaccines against Neisseria meningitidis. N Engl J Med. 2010; 362:1511-20.

Disease Progression and Symptoms

Meningococcal disease has an incubation period of typically 3 to 4 days, with a range of 1 to 10 days2 

Invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) is a major cause of meningitis and septicaemia.1 Common symptoms of meningococcal meningitis include fever, headache, neck stiffness, altered mental status, nausea, vomiting and photophobia.1 Meningococcal sepsis symptoms typically include fever, a petechial or purpuric rash, septic shock, disseminated intravascular coagulation and multiple organ failure.1

Immunisation & Treatment - History & Advances

In 1906, scientists began to recommend anti-meningococcal serum therapy to protect humans against meningococcal disease; a therapy based on antibodies initially derived from the blood of horses, and later from patients, or individuals recovering from meningococcal disease.4 Antibiotics revolutionised treatment for meningitis; however, they do not always act fast enough to prevent damage that the bacteria can cause. Ireland introduced a vaccine against meningococcal C disease (MenC vaccine) in 2000, meningococcal B disease (MenB vaccine) in 2016 and meningococcal ACWY disease (MenACWY vaccine) in 2019.5,6

References:European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Factsheet about meningococcal disease. Available at: Last Accessed August 2022.Mbaeyi, S., Duffy, J., McNamara, L.A. Meningococcal Disease. In: Hall, E., Wodi, A.P., Hamborsky J, et al., eds. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 14th ed. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Washington DC: Public Health Foundation; 2021.Panatto D, Amicizia D, Lai PL, Gasparini R. Neisseria meningitidis B vaccines. Exp Rev Vacc. 2011; 10(9) 2020. The history of meningitis | Meningitis Research Foundation. Available at: Last Accessed August 2022.Health Service Executive (HSE). Meningococcal C. Available at: Last Accessed August 2022. Health Service Executive (HSE). History of Vaccines in Ireland. Available at: Last accessed: August 2022.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prevention. Available at: Last Accessed August 2022.

Meningococcal vaccines help to protect against different serogroups of Neisseria meningitidis.7

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About Signs and symptoms

Clinical suspicion of haemophilia should be raised for patients with a history of easy bruising, spontaneous, or excessive bleeding following trauma or surgery.1

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Treatment options

Haemophilia management involves treating specific haemorrhages, as well as preventing bleed recurrence, limiting complications, and restoring tissue and/or organ function to a pre-bleed state.1​​​​​​​

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