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Meningitis: Neisseria Meningitides | An Overview

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  • Katie Porsch
  • Jenna Simpson

Hippocrates once spoke about a very toxic and lethal discovery in his texts. This discovery is now known to our human society as Meningitis. The scientific name for this very life-threatening disease is Neisseria meningitidis. The first known outbreak of Hippocrates assumptions was claimed to be in Geneva in 1805 (Dr Ananya Mandal, 2015). However, there are other sources that claim there was known information about Meningitis as early as 1661 by Thomas Willis, which he described there was an inflammation of the meninges in his current patients (KL, 2010). In the following reading I will be describing and informing you of the details of the Meningitis: Neisseria meningitidis, including, but not limited to, what is Meningitis, where it comes from, who and what it affects, signs and symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and scientific qualities of the bacteria.

Meningitis itself is defined as the meninges becoming inflamed; therefore, the meninges are the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and brain (Foundation, 2010). The following taxonomy order that scientist have discovered is known as the following: Binomial name: Neisseria meningitidis; Domain: Prokaryote; Kingdom: Bacteria; Phylum/Division: Proteobacteria; Class: Betaproteobacteria; Order: Neisseriales; Family: Neisseriaceae; Genus: Neisseria. Neisseria meningitidis, is a gram negative, cocci shaped cell, better understood as the shape of a coffee bean. (CDC, 2012) These cocci shaped cells like to arrange in pairs termed diplococci. With this specific bacteria being a prokaryote, it has no organelles such as a nucleus or other specialized organelles. However, it does have a slimy protective layer called a capsule with fingerlike structures called pili to help with movement and infection of the host. (Bingen, 2007-2012).

Along with the first outbreak in Geneva in 1805, in 1840 there was an outbreak that was reported in Africa. However, in the 20th century outbreaks became more uncommon. Nigeria and Ghana, in 1905 had a major outbreak and many people did not survive. This bacterial infection was officially scientifically diagnosed as Meningitis, by Anton Vaykselbaum and an Austrian bacteriologist in 1887 (Dr Ananya Mandal, 2015). As time has progressed, there has been a plethora of replications of this horrible bacteria and certain strains are found in specific locations throughout the world. The most commonly known strains are A, B, C, N, X, Y, and W135. Strain A is most commonly found in Sub-Sahara Africa; Strain B is found primarily in the United Kingdom some reports in New Zealand; Strain C has been reported in the United Kingdom as well; Strain Y is more common to us here at home in North America. Last but certainly not least, Strain N has many different strains in itself and has caused many epidemics across the world (Bingen, 2007-2012).

Binary fission is how most bacterial cells reproduce, such as, Neisseria meningitidis. To more understand what I mean by Binary fission, please look below to see the five main steps of Binary fission are:

  1. Chromosome attaches to plasma membrane
  2. Chromosome replicates
  3. Cell grows and protein ring forms
  4. Protein ring in middle constricts and the membranes and cell wall come in and pinch together
  5. Fission is complete and two genetically identical daughter cells are created” (Bingen, 2007-2012).

This particular bacterial cell has two genetically identical daughter cells that allows the bacteria to have adequate growth and ability inside the host and helps prevent any abnormalities that may occur (Bingen, 2007-2012). Since this type of bacteria lives inside a specific host, it’s defined as a heterotrophic parasite. Heterotrophic is more understood as when bacteria gets its nutrients from living inside the provided host. There are different levels of how infected the host actually is. This horrifying organism lives off of blood from the circulatory system and or the mucous membrane of the host. Nutrients from these sources are provided to the bacteria depending, like stated previously, how far the bacteria has invaded inside of the host.(Bingen, 2007-2012).

The most susceptible to bacterial meningitis, are young children ranging in ages of newborn to toddlers. Many adults are also at risk if the person contains any of the following or a combination can include: a weakened immune system, abuses alcohol, chronic respiratory infections, pneumonia, or a head injury. Because the meninges become inflamed, if a person has had brain or spinal surgery, that person is at a higher risk of this particular bacterial infection reaching the blood stream quicker and more intensely (Foundation, 2010). As stated before, in Sub-Saharan Africa, people are more susceptible to contract Meningitis due to warmer and drier environments. This happens in several countries in relative closeness to each other across the continent of Africa, also termed the Meningitis Belt (Prevention, 2013).

As Neisseria meningitidis needs a host to survive, it can only be transmitted through respiratory fluids from actions such as: sneezing or coughing, kissing, and or sharing drinks (McMurtry, 2013). Exposure to an air-conditioning system or a swimming pool are a few ways of how this bacteria cannot be transmitted from human to human because this bacteria needs to stay inside of a host and if there is no host to invade, the bacteria will no longer be able to survive, and in these two examples, it could be a long period of time before another host comes along. (McMurtry, 2013). Adults and adolescents are at risk for colonizing Neisseria meningitidis by 10-20%. As scary as it may seem, this bacteria can survive and be carried by the individual for weeks and even months at a time (The College of Physicians of Philidelphia, 2014).

By the end of the 19th century, symptoms were occurring more and more commonly. The signs were all described to the Russian physician Vladimir Kernig in 1884 and the Polish physician Jozef Brudzinski in 1899. The signs were commonly known at that time as Kernig’s sign and Brudzinski sign in 1882 and 1909 (Dr Ananya Mandal, 2015). Once this bacteria infects an individual that is between the ages two or older, that individual may show or start to contain the following symptoms: fever, headaches, stiff neck, nausea or vomiting, confusion, seizures, and many more onsets to these particular symptoms. In newborns the symptoms may occur differently such as: fever, constant crying, excessive sleepiness or irritability, poor feeding, sluggishness, bulge in the soft spot: fontanel, and stiffness in the body and neck (Staff, 2013). After developing symptoms and talking to your health care provider, one major and excruciating procedure to detect if a particular individual is infected with Neisseria meningitidis, is by having a professional perform a spinal tap. A spinal tap is more clearing defined as extracting Cerebrospinal Fluid, or commonly known as CSF, from an individual’s spine (Bingen, 2007-2012). Cloudiness will appear in the CSF if the bacteria is present. In this case, the cloudiness is present due to the increase of pressure given off by the bacteria. Another treatment option that doctors may choose to perform could include draining the infected sinuses or mastoids, which are the bones on the skull that are located behind the outer ear and that connect inside to the middle ear (Staff, 2013). Glucose levels will also be reduced and white blood cell count will be elevated if the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis, is present in the CSF. After samples have been collected, laboratory staff will begin a process that they have to specifically follow to grow the CSF bacteria collected on a chocolate agar. The chocolate color is due to the 5-10% mammalian blood that is used as nutrients (Bingen, 2007-2012). Initially, if an individual is experiencing symptoms, if not treated within 12-24 hours, many autopsy reports have stated that death was caused by Neisseria meningitidis (McMurtry, 2013).

Once an individual is diagnosed with Neisseria meningitidis, a doctor will generally push an antibiotic with a corticosteroid to help bring down the inflammation of the meninges. (Foundation, 2010). Antibiotic therapy began in the 20th century with the use of sulfonamides by Francois Schwentker (1904-1954) and penicillin by Chester Keefer (1897-1972). Evidence increased showing that treatment with steroids have improved the prognosis of bacterial meningitis since the year 2002 (Dr Ananya Mandal, 2015). Starting in 2000, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) have required universities and colleges to have their students vaccinated to help prevent meningitis from occurring in the first place and from being able to spread and lead to another epidemic (Dr Ananya Mandal, 2015). Between 2005 and 2010, the FDA have provided vaccines that help protect 4 of the 5 major disease-causing serogroups of meningitis such as: A, C, Y, and W-135. Children at the ages of eleven and twelve are recommended for routine vaccinations for their pre-teen years against meningococcal (Dr Ananya Mandal, 2015). Even though an individual has previously had the meningococcal vaccine, they recommend that individual get a booster shot every five years. The approximate or estimated time frame before a person can begin at the earliest of seven days and could take up to ten days to develop the protection that is needed to fight against is brutal disease (Prevention, 2013). There are a few other ways that people in society can help to prevent the spread of Meningitis. This short list is a few of precautions but are not limited to: washing your hands thoroughly, practicing good hygiene, staying healthy as an individual, covering your mouth when you happen to sneeze or cough, and if you are pregnant, cook your food properly and a little longer than suggested to prevent undercooked meat.

As you have read, this is a very scary, life-threatening disease that is probably a force not to be reckoned with. It is very serious. I hope that from the information that I have given you, that if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of any kind that I described, you should not take it lightly. Go check it out and consult a physician. As I have previously noted, this disease is called Meningitis, scientifically known as Neisseria meningitides. Simply put, it is inflammation of the meninges of the brain. Well, we should all know as a part of the human race, anything to do with the brain is quite serious and is no laughing matter. Yes, there are vaccines against this disease, however, it is just like any other disease, it can keep replicating and could lead to a possible epidemic if we as humans do not take the proper cautions to protect ourselves and others against it by performing routine and common practices such as hand washing. This bacteria has been around for many, many centuries and I do not think it is going anywhere anytime soon. So please, take care of yourself and others by simply, taking care of yourself.

References

Bingen, S. (2007-2012). Neisseria meningitides. Retrieved from University of Wisconsin-La Crosse: http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/s2008/bingen_sama/index.htm

CDC. (2012, March 15). Chapter 7: Identification and Characterization of Neisseria meningitidis. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/lab-manual/chpt07-id-characterization-nm.html

Dr Ananya Mandal, M. (2015, March 24). History of Meningitis. Retrieved from News Medical: http://www.news-medical.net/health/History-of-Meninigitis.aspx

Foundation, T. C. (2010, May 4). Diseases & Conditions: Meningitis. Retrieved from Cleveland Clinic: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Bacterial_Meningitis

KL, T. (2010). Chapter 28: A history of bacterial meningitis. Retrieved from PubMed.gov: http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19892131

McMurtry, K. (2013, May 10). Neisseria meningitidis causing meningoccocal meningitis. Retrieved from MicrobeWiki, the student-edited microbiology resource: https://microbewiki.kenyon.edu/index.php/Neisseria_meningitidis_causing_meningococcal_meningitis

Prevention, C. f. (2013, March 10). Meningococcal Disease (Neisseria meningitidis). Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/diseases/meningococcal-disease

Staff, M. C. (2013, March 19). Diseases and Conditions: Meningitis. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/meningitis/basics/definition/con-20019713?p=1

The College of Physicians of Philidelphia. (2014, November 4). Meningococcal Disease. Retrieved from The History of Vaccines: http://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/articles/meningococcal-disease

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