Meningococcal disease in infants: A potentially difficult and serious diagnosis

An article published in the May 2010 edition of Postgraduate Medicine documents a case study where a previously healthy, 15-week-old male infant was misdiagnosed and died of meningococcal disease. Initially the patient showed signs of the common cold and was treated as such, but symptoms worsened and he was admitted to the hospital emergency department.

He was diagnosed with nonrespiratory syncytial virus bronchiolitis and discharged with instructions to treat the symptoms as such. Two days later his parents returned him to the hospital emergency department with complaints of breathing problems. Within thirty minutes of admissions, the patient’s condition rapidly deteriorated and he was transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). He died three hours after being transferred to the PICU of meningococcemia.

This case exemplifies the difficulties encountered when assessing mildly to moderately ill young children with nonspecific symptoms. Two meningococcal vaccines are available in the United States, but neither one is recommended for use in infants younger than 2 years old. Thus, it is important for all health care works to be aware of meningococcal disease in infants so misdiagnoses are minimized.

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