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Acute meningococcal disease

  • Statewide logo

    This guideline has been adapted for statewide use with the support of the Victorian Paediatric Clinical Network

  • See also

    Fever and petechiae/purpura 

    Key Points

    1. IV ceftriaxone / cefotaxime should be given as soon as meningococcal disease is suspected. If unavailable, give penicillin.
    2. If IV access cannot be obtained within 15 minutes, administer IM or IO ceftriaxone/cefotaxime, or penicillin.
    3. No investigation should delay antibiotic administration. Collect blood culture prior to antibiotics if possible. 


    Acute meningococcal disease (caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis) is a potentially devastating cause of severe sepsis.

    The most recognisable presentations of acute meningococcal disease are sepsis with a progressive non-blanching petechial/purpuric rash, and meningitis  with or without sepsis and rash. Rarer presentations include septic arthritis, pneumonia, pharyngitis and occult bacteraemia. 


    • Rapid onset of symptoms (usually)
    • Signs of sepsis: see sepsis guideline
    • Fever
    • Leg pain
    • Altered conscious state (late sign >12 hours)
    • Neck stiffness, headache, photophobia, bulging fontanelle (late sign >12 hours)
    • Rash: petechiae / purpura – a non-blanching rash (late sign >12 hours).

    Note: a blanching rash does not exclude meningococcal disease (can initially be macular, maculopapular) 

    Examples of rash: Click here to see full size

    purpura Meningocaccal rash pic 2 Meningococcal rash pic 3 Menigococcal rash pic4
    Meningococcal rash pic5 Meningococcal rash pic 7 Meningococcal rash pic8



    Investigations should not delay antibiotic administration.

    • Blood (or marrow) culture should be obtained prior to antibiotic administration if possible.
    • Meningococcal PCR (separate EDTA tube, minimum volume 0.2mL)
    • CSF: For Gram stain (Gram negative diplococci), culture, and meningococcal PCR if suspected meningitis and no purpuric rash or other contraindication to lumbar puncture. DO NOT delay antibiotics to obtain CSF.  


    • General approach as per Sepsis guideline
    • Administer ceftriaxone (50mg/kg, max 2g) or cefotaxime (50mg/kg, max 2g). If no IV/IO access, give IM (repeat dose once IV access available). If ceftriaxone and cefotaxime are unavailable, administer benzylpenicillin (60mg/kg, max 2.4g).  

    Ward management / other treatment considerations:

    Duration of antibiotics is generally 5-7 days.  


    Meningococcal disease is spread person-to-person by respiratory droplets.

    Patients should be isolated and droplet precautions continued for 24 hours after administration of appropriate antibiotics.  


    All cases of presumed or confirmed meningococcal disease should be urgently notified to the Department of Human Services by telephone 1300 651 160 (fax 1300 651 170) (after hours pager 03 9625 5000, pager number 46870)

    Link to DHS notifications (including form)  


    Prophylaxis should be given to contacts as soon as possible, recommended chemoprophylaxis  

    Consider consultation with local paediatric team when:

    All cases of suspected meningococcal disease in children. 

    Consider transfer when:

    All cases of acute meningococcal disease should be managed in a facility with the capacity to provide paediatric intensive care. If these facilities are unavailable, the patient should be stabilised and transferred as appropriate.

    For emergency advice and paediatric or neonatal ICU transfers, call the Paediatric Infant Perinatal Emergency Retrieval (PIPER) Service: 1300 137 650. 

    Parent information sheet:

    Can be found at RCH Kids Health Info here

    Information specific to RCH 

    All patients should be admitted under General Medicine. If severe sepsis, shock, or meningitis, consider consulting the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (x52327).

    If prophylaxis is required after hours, a limited supply of rifampicin is available in the Emergency Department (after-hours cupboard) and in the PICU/Rosella medication room (cupboard below bench).

    Last revised June 2017