What Is Rifampin Used For?
Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitides (or simply meningococcus). Meningococcal meningitis (often referred to as just meningitis), a potentially life-threatening infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, is one of the bacterial infections caused by meningococcus. However, meningococcus can cause other illnesses, including a serious blood infection called septicemia.
Meningococcus spreads from person to person through droplets of throat or respiratory secretions that contain the bacteria. The bacteria normally settle in the mucous membranes of the nose and throat, where they usually do not cause symptoms. In fact, up to 10 percent of the population are asymptomatic carriers, which means they have the bacteria in their nose and throat, but do not have symptoms and are not considered to have meningococcal disease. However, asymptomatic carriers can spread the bacteria to others.
Meningococcal disease is found in the United States and worldwide, with seasonal variations. Repeated epidemics of meningococcal disease occur in some countries, particularly the sub-Saharan African "meningitis belt."
Rifampin is used to eliminate Neisseria meningitides from the nose and throat of people who are carriers and do not have symptoms. It is not approved to treat people who actually have meningococcal meningitis or other meningococcal disease.
However, by ridding the body of the bacteria, the drug can help prevent a meningococcal infection from occurring and prevent the spread of the bacteria to other people. It is only used when there is a high risk for meningococcal disease. Overuse or inappropriate use of the medication could lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to rifampin.
Rifampin works by blocking the action of an enzyme known as RNA polymerase. The bacteria need RNA polymerase to make RNA, a molecule that transfers the bacteria's genetic information and makes proteins. These actions are essential for the bacteria to survive. By blocking RNA polymerase, rifampin kills the bacteria.
Rifampin specifically blocks bacterial RNA polymerase. It does not affect human RNA polymerase and, therefore, does not interfere with the production of RNA in humans.