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After-effects of septicaemia

When meningococcal bacteria invade the body, they multiply in the bloodstream and release toxins (poisons), causing septicaemia*

Meningitis and septicaemia rash

After septicaemia

When the toxins damage the blood vessels and reduce the flow of oxygen to the major organs including the skin and underlying tissues, it can lead to:

  • Skin and tissue damage
  • Bone growth problems
  • Organ failure
  • Limb loss

Our fact sheet Meningococcal disease provides more information about the disease.

Skin and tissue damage

When meningococcal septicaemia causes damage to blood vessels, blood leaks out, causing the rash that does not fade under pressure. The rash can quickly develop into larger patches which look like fresh bruising. This damage prevents blood and oxygen reaching the skin and underlying tissues. Without this the skin and tissues begin to die. This process often results in scarring on the body, which can be permanent. Skin grafts and plastic surgery can improve the appearance and restore the function of the injured areas, but will require long-term care, ensuring the best results are achieved to maintain the movement and appearance of the skin.

For more in-depth information download the fact sheet - Skin scarring after septicaemia

Limb and digit loss

In severe cases of meningococcal septicaemia, amputation of fingers and toes or limbs may be necessary. When septicaemia causes damage to blood vessels. The body will try and maintain blood supply to the vital organs (brain, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys), but the blood supply is reduced to the extremities, such as the hands and feet and the surface of the skin. Without blood and oxygen reaching the skin and underlying tissues, they begin to die, leading to skin damage, loss of fingers and toes or amputation of limbs.

Treatment and recovery can be a long process, with multiple health professionals involved in all aspects of care and rehabilitation.

For more in-depth information you can download our fact sheets Amputation including loss of finger, toes and limbs and Amputee rehabilitation.

Bone growth problems

In children, while septicaemia can cause damage to the skin and underlying tissues, it can also damage the growth plates at the end of their bones. Growth plates are areas of cartilage at the end of long bones. Here, cells divide to form new bone so the bones grow longer. In severe cases the growth plates can be destroyed, and the bone will stop growing altogether. For others, damage to the growth plates can mean that bones grow unevenly.

As bones grow quite slowly it can be some time after the illness that these problems become apparent. In adolescents, when bone growth has stopped the cartilage turns to bone. If disease happens after this time, then growth plate damage will not occur.

For in-depth information download the following fact sheets:

Bone growth problems after septicaemia

The use of external fixators for limb correction

Organ failure

Reduced blood circulation can cause vital organs, such as the liver and kidneys, to fail. If this happens, treatment in an intensive care unit is usually needed. In most cases, the organs recover completely but occasionally the damage is permanent and will need lifelong treatment.

For more in-depth information you can download our factsheet Kidney damage during and after septicaemia.

Other organisations that can help

  • Limbcare (http://www.limbcare.org) provides advice and support to individuals living with limb-loss and those affected around them
  • The Limbless Association (https://limbless-association.org)provides information and support to the limb-loss community. They support people of all ages and backgrounds through a variety of programmes and services
  • Limb power (https://www.limbpower.com) supports amputees, individuals with limb difference and their families to bridge the gap between hospital rehabilitation and community and school engagement to rebuild lives and improve physical, social and mental well-being

Been affected by meningococcal septicaemia?

Don’t face meningitis alone. Contact our nurse-led Helpline for information and support on 0808 80 10 388 or email us at helpline@meningitisnow.org.