Woman infected with rare bacterial disease on international flight

A woman contracted meningococcal disease, a rare bacterial infection, during a 12-hour flight from Japan to Germany, according to research presented Oct. 5 at IDWeek in San Diego.

The woman and her husband flew to Germany Aug. 8, 2015. A few days later, the woman developed a sore throat and cough. Her husband also had a sore throat and mild fever. While they felt healthier upon returning to Japan Aug. 16, the woman experienced a sudden high fever, chills and joint pain Sept. 19. She was hospitalized Sept. 25 after visiting several healthcare providers, according to Live Science.

Fluid in the woman's joints tested positive for Neisseria meningitidis, the bacteria that causes meningococcal disease, indicating she had a blood infection that spread to her joints. Samples from her husband's nose and throat also tested positive for N. meningitidis, but he did not develop further symptoms. Clinicians successfully treated the woman with antibiotics.

Researchers believe the woman contracted the infection from a group of infected Scottish and Swedish boy scouts who sat in front of her on the plane to Germany. The case marks the third infection ever reported due to transmission on an airplane.

Meningococcal disease is spread via exposure to salivary and throat secretions. The disease can cause severe infections in the lining of the brain and spinal cord, as well as bloodstream infections.

To learn more about Meningococcal disease, click here.

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