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Introduction to Neisseriaceae

By Larry M. Bush, MD, Affiliate Professor of Clinical Biomedical Sciences; Affiliate Associate Professor of Medicine, Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, Florida Atlantic University; University of Miami-Miller School of Medicine
Maria T. Perez, MD, Associate Pathologist, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Wellington Regional Medical Center, West Palm Beach

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All pathogenic aerobic gram-negative cocci belong to the Neisseriaceae family, which is composed of 5 genera:

Of these, Neisseria includes the most important human pathogens:

  • N. meningitidis

  • N. gonorrhoeae

Numerous saprophytic Neisseriaceae commonly inhabit the oropharynx, vagina, or colon but rarely cause human disease.

Moraxella catarrhalis causes otitis media in children, sinusitis in people of all ages, and exacerbations of COPD, sometimes community-acquired pneumonia in adults, and infrequently bacteremia. Over half a dozen other Moraxella sp and the related Kingella kingae cause infections in the CNS, respiratory tract, urinary tract, endocardium, bones, and joints.

Humans are the only reservoir of Neisseria, and person-to-person spread is the prime mode of transmission. Both N. meningitidis (meningococcus) and N. gonorrhoeae (which causes gonorrhea), can exist in an asymptomatic carrier state. Carrier states are particularly important with meningococcus because of its association with epidemics.