Unusual surge of meningococcal disease cases in Florida alarms the CDC

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Georgia health officials report no cases here, but issue cautions for men who have sex with men and travel to Florida

A meningococcal disease outbreak in Florida has caused at least 26 cases and six deaths and has health officials in Georgia urging susceptible individuals to get vaccinated.

The outbreak is being described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the worst in U.S. history for gay and bisexual men.

“Getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease is the best way to prevent this serious illness, which can quickly become deadly…. It’s important that gay and bisexual men who live in Florida get vaccinated, and those traveling to Florida talk to their healthcare provider about getting a MenACWY vaccine,” said Dr. José R. Romero, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, in a CDC news release.

The disease is caused by a bacteria known as Neisseria meningitidis and it can lead to a bloodstream infection or meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Though cases are often sporadic and difficult to trace, it is important for those especially vulnerable to the disease to get vaccinated.

“My biggest concern is that with all of the Pride events, people getting together and people being together for vacations, there could be more transmission,” said Carlos del Rio, a professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Emory University School of Medicine.

While the outbreak is impacting the gay and bisexual community, it is important to know that this disease can be spread to anyone, regardless of gender identity, sexuality or sexual practices.

“Right now, it’s MSM (men who have sex with men), but in the past, for example, it used to be people in military barracks or people who went to college. If you are in close proximity with a lot of other people, this is a respiratory pathogen, you can certainly be infected this way,” del Rio said.

The bacteria that causes meningitis lives in the back of the throat and nose of nearly 10% of the population, making those individuals asymptomatic carriers. Unlike other highly contagious diseases, meningococcal disease takes extended periods of close contact for it to spread.

Kissing is another way that the disease can be transmitted via respiratory and throat secretions, like saliva.

“To date, there are no known cases of meningitis in Georgia related to the outbreak in Florida,” Nancy Nydam, a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Public Health, said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “DPH has alerted physicians to consider meningitis when diagnosing, and to urge meningitis vaccination among at risk individuals in the current outbreak including men who have sex with men, individuals who are HIV positive, anyone who is immunocompromised, and college students.”

If it is caught early, meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics.

According to Dr. Susan Hariri, deputy branch chief for science for the meningitis and vaccine preventable diseases branch of the CDC, roughly 10% to 15% of cases are fatal, and those who overcome the disease are often left with lingering side effects such as “deafness, loss of limbs and damage to the brain.”

Hariri also noted that this disease has no connection to monkeypox, which has recently been in the news due to an ongoing global outbreak that began among men who have sex with men.

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Symptoms of Meningococcal Disease

Common symptoms include:

· High fever

· Nausea

· Vomiting

· Stiff neck

· Dark purple rash

· Headache

Symptoms usually appear three to four days after a person is infected, but it can take up to 10 days to develop symptoms.

Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention