Which physical findings are characteristic of meningococcal meningitis?

Updated: Jul 16, 2018
  • Author: Francisco de Assis Aquino Gondim, MD, PhD, MSc, FAAN; Chief Editor: Niranjan N Singh, MBBS, MD, DM, FAHS, FAANEM  more...
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Neurologic signs of meningococcal meningitis include nuchal rigidity (eg, Kernig sign, Brudzinski sign), lethargy, delirium, coma, and convulsions.

Irritability is a common presenting feature in children.

However, in a 2008 published cohort study from Netherlands (the Meningitis Cohort Study), conducted in adult patients with meningococcal meningitis, only 70% of the patients had the classic triad of fever, neck stiffness, and change in mental status. If the presence of rash was added, 89% of the patients had 2 of the 4 features. [9]

Patients older than 30 years were noted to have petechiae (62%) less frequently than younger patients (81%).

A more severe, but less common form of meningococcal disease, is meningococcal septicemia, which is characterized by rapid circulatory collapse and a hemorrhagic rash.

A petechial or purpuric rash usually is found on the trunk, legs, mucous membranes, and conjunctivae. Occasionally, it is on the palms and soles. The rash may progress to purpura fulminans, when it usually is associated with multiorgan failure (ie, Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome). The petechial rash may be difficult to recognize in dark-skinned patients.

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