Medical Fun Facts Podcast

MFF0003: The meningococcus

Why would I want to talk about the meningococcus? It’s not so much the bacterium although it is a delightful microorganism. It’s more the derived words associated with the meningococcus.

Let me explain. The formal name for the meningococcus is Neisseria meningitidisNeisseria meningitidis causes nasty infections like meningitis, bacteræmia, septicæmia, and occasionally pneumonia. These are often described as meningococcal meningitis, meningococcal septicæmia and meningococcal disease.

One of my greatest peeves and something that annoys me no end is when an illness is referred to as ‘meningococcal’ and that word is used as a noun when it is an adjective, that is, a describing word. We learn these things in grade three. Surely it is not too much to ask of journalists and healthcare practitioners and health policy advisers and politicians to know the difference between an adjective and a noun. That’s the rant part of this podcast over, now to get to some fun facts about the meningococcus.

It is almost identical to the gonococcus and sometimes the meningococcus can cause urethral and throat infection as a sexually transmitted pathogen.

We commonly find the meningococcus in throat specimens, conjunctival specimens and sputum, but just because we isolate it from these sites doesn’t make it a finding of public health importance. The meningococcus can be a commensal organism and do no harm.

I have been involved in at least two patients from whom we have isolated a meningococcus from the blood and in these cases the person was well, afebrile, with no headache and no rash. I recall one patient was seen in the emergency department for vomiting and had blood collected for culture despite a lack of fever. To be safe though, because we grew the meningococcus from the blood each patient received appropriate antimicrobial treatment.

I will cover the gonococcus soon because that is truly a gorgeous microorganism.

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