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Introduction to Neisseriaceae

by Larry M. Bush, MD, Maria T. Perez, MD

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

  • Acinetobacter

  • Kingella

  • Moraxella (including 2 subgenera, Moraxella and Branhamella)

  • Neisseria

  • Oligella

Of these, Neisseria includes the most important human pathogens, N. meningitidis and 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 and sometimes community-acquired pneumonia in adults. 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. gonorrhoeaecan exist in an asymptomatic carrier state. Carrier states are particularly important with meningococcus because of its association with epidemics. For gonorrhea, see Gonorrhea.

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