Adrenal gland hemorrhage in patients with fatal bacterial infections

Mod Pathol. 2008 Sep;21(9):1113-20. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2008.98. Epub 2008 May 23.


A wide spectrum of adrenal gland pathology is seen during bacterial infections. Hemorrhage is particularly associated with meningococcemia, while abscesses have been described with several neonatal infections. We studied adrenal gland histopathology of 65 patients with bacterial infections documented in a variety of tissues by using immunohistochemistry. The infections diagnosed included Neisseria meningitidies, group A streptococcus, Rickettsia rickettsii, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, Ehrlichia sp., Bacillus anthracis, Leptospira sp., Clostridium sp., Klebsiella sp., Legionella sp., Yersinia pestis, and Treponema pallidum. Bacteria were detected in the adrenal of 40 (61%) cases. Adrenal hemorrhage was present in 39 (60%) cases. Bacteria or bacterial antigens were observed in 31 (79%) of the cases with adrenal hemorrhage including 14 with N. meningitidis, four with R. rickettsii, four with S. pneumoniae, three with group A streptococcus, two with S. aureus, two with B. anthracis, one with T. pallidum, and one with Legionella sp. Bacterial antigens were observed in nine of 26 non-hemorrhagic adrenal glands that showed inflammatory foci (four cases), edema (two cases), congestion (two cases), or necrosis (one case). Hemorrhage is the most frequent adrenal gland pathology observed in fatal bacterial infections. Bacteria and bacterial antigens are frequently seen in adrenal glands with hemorrhage and may play a pathogenic role. Although N. meningitidis is the most frequent bacteria associated with adrenal gland pathology, a broad collection of bacteria can also cause adrenal lesions.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenal Gland Diseases / metabolism
  • Adrenal Gland Diseases / microbiology
  • Adrenal Gland Diseases / pathology*
  • Adrenal Glands / metabolism
  • Adrenal Glands / microbiology
  • Adrenal Glands / pathology*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antigens, Bacterial / analysis
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Direct
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / immunology
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Gram-Negative Bacterial Infections / complications
  • Gram-Negative Bacterial Infections / immunology
  • Gram-Negative Bacterial Infections / pathology*
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / immunology
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections / complications
  • Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections / immunology
  • Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections / pathology*
  • Hemorrhage / metabolism
  • Hemorrhage / microbiology
  • Hemorrhage / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Biomarkers