FLORIDA — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Florida Department of Health are investigating what is being called one of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease in U.S. history.
Meningococcal disease can be “very serious and “often deadly,” according to the CDC. So far this year, state health officials report that the number of cases of meningitis in Florida have surpassed the five-year average.
Health officials say the outbreak is disproportionately impacting LGBTQ men. College students and people living with HIV are also at increased risk.
So far, at least 24 cases and 7 deaths have been reported among LGBTQ+ men.
The CDC is now recommending gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men get a meningococcal vaccine (MenACWY) if they live in Florida. Health officials are also emphasizing the importance of routine MenACWY vaccination for people with HIV.
Anyone can get a MenACWY vaccine at no cost at any county health department during the outbreak.
Meningitis Versus Meningococcal Disease: There IS a Difference
Having meningitis doesn’t always mean you have meningococcal disease. And having meningococcal disease doesn’t necessarily mean you have meningitis. The CDC says meningococcal disease is any illness caused by a type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. These illnesses are serious and include meningitis and bloodstream infections (septicemia).
Bacterial meningitis is serious. Some people with the infection die and death can occur in as little as a few hours. However, most people recover from bacterial meningitis. Those who do recover can have permanent disabilities, such as brain damage, hearing loss, and learning disabilities.
Generally, the germs that cause bacterial meningitis spread from one person to another. Certain germs can spread through food. How people spread the germs often depends on the type of bacteria. Read about common examples of how people spread the different types of bacteria to each other.
Viral meningitis (when meningitis is caused by a virus) is the most common type of meningitis. Most people get better on their own without treatment. However, anyone with symptoms of meningitis should see a doctor right away because any type of meningitis can be serious.
People can spread the viruses that cause viral meningitis to other people. If you have close contact with someone who has viral meningitis, they may spread the virus to you. However, you are not likely to develop meningitis. That’s because most people infected with these viruses will not develop meningitis.
Fungal meningitis can develop after a fungal infection spreads from somewhere else in the body to the brain or spinal cord.
Various parasites can cause meningitis or can affect the brain or nervous system in other ways. Overall, parasitic meningitis is much less common than viral and bacterial meningitis.
Primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) is a rare brain infection that is usually fatal and caused by a free-living ameba (a single-celled living organism that is too small to be seen without a microscope.)
From 1962–2019, 148 U.S. infections have been reported to CDC with no more than 8 cases reported each year.
Symptoms can appear suddenly and include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea/vomiting, or a dark purple rash. Symptoms can first appear as a flu-like illness, but typically worsen very quickly. People spread meningococcal bacteria to others by sharing respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit).
The CDC says that generally, it takes close or lengthy contact, such as kissing or being near someone coughing, to spread these bacteria.
Find a meningococcal vaccine by contacting your
- Doctor’s office
- Community health center
- Local health department
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