Fear not. There is no plague.

Misinformation about meningococcemia has unnecessarily stirred public hysteria, affecting the summer capital’s tourism industry and causing the hype for antibiotics. The disease is far from spreading like the viral SARS.

“There is no epidemic of meningococcemia,” says the Department of Health (DOH).

According to a DOH primer, meningococcemia or meningococcal meningitis is an acute bacterial disease caused by Naisseria meningitides, also known as meninggococcus, which affects the upper respiratory tract. Though death can be sudden, treatment is just over the counter.

“The disease is characterized by the sudden onset of high grade fever lasting for 24 hours,” the DOH primer states. Apparent symptoms within 24 hours after onset of fever include rashes, headache, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, bulging fontanel (the soft spot of the skull) among infants, seizure, and sensory changes.

USTH Medical Director Dr. Rolando Cabatu rejected claims that meningococcemia is transmitted through air or inanimate objects, since the bacteria die spontaneously once exposed to the atmosphere at high temperature. Although a children’s disease, it also occurs among adults especially in overcrowded places. Males are more likely victims than females.

“Transmission is by direct contact with respiratory droplets from the nose and throat of the infected person. Therefore, family members and people closely exposed to an infected individual are at increased risk,” Dr. Cabatu told the Varsitarian.

From the respiratory tract, the bacteria can penetrate into the bloodstream, and later to the brain, which can develop into meningitis or full blown meningococcemia and eventually destroy the central nervous system.

A piece of Jesus

Unfortunately, during its early stages, a doctor cannot readily differentiate meningococcemia from other viral infections such as influenza and dengue fever, unless the patient is known to be exposed to meningococcal diseases.

Diagnosis of meningococcemia, according to Dr. Cabatu, is confirmed by growing meninggococcus in a blood culture, and once identified, prophylaxis or preventive antibiotics are given to patients.

Fifteen to 20 per cent of meningococcemia patients die of acute infection, while a substantial number of survivors acquire tissue damages that require surgical treatment.


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