Meningococcal meningitis needs focus and increased study

Meningococcal meningitis is an infection perceived as rare, yet in 2019 doctors recorded more than one case per day and more than one death per week on average in our country. Indeed, a study by Public Health France and the Institut Pasteur reports 459 cases diagnosed and 55 deaths during the year 2019 in metropolitan France and in the overseas territories.

Meningococcal meningitis is an infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis , also called meningococci. Grouped into 12 serogroups designated by letters, strains of serogroups A, B, C, W, and Y are responsible for 99% of diagnosed infections. In France, in 2019, more than one in two cases (53%) is caused by meningococcus B, but Public Health France noted that meningococcus W became more frequent between 2018 and 2019, increasing from 14% to 21% cases. A worrying trend since this hypervirulent serogroup has the highest case fatality rate and accounted for 45% of deaths in 2019.

The infection is unpredictable. Contamination occurs through prolonged contact with infectious respiratory secretions . Neisseria meningitidis can be found in the microbial flora of the throat, without the person developing symptoms . Nearly 30% of 15-25 year olds are healthy carriers. The passage of the bacterium through the respiratory mucosa allows it to join the blood and reach the meninges . This spread of the bacteria will trigger different symptoms.

Difficult to diagnose, a meningococcal infection initially causes non-specific symptoms that do not allow it to be distinguished from other illnesses: flu – like illness, fatigue, body aches, etc. When the symptoms become clearer, the infection is already installed. In adults, this infection results in photophobia, irritability, headaches and vomiting; and in children, by behavioral disturbances and fever .

The acute phase evolves quickly, the condition of patients can deteriorate in a few hours if nothing is done. All serogroups combined, invasive meningococcal disease is fatal in approximately 10% of cases. Up to 20% of survivors may suffer severe and disabling sequelae . Hearing loss, amputation , learning disabilities are examples of sequelae related to the initial infection.

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