7 Deaths amid the “worst” meningococcal epidemic in US history

  • A meningococcal outbreak killed at least seven people in Florida and made 26 sick.
  • The bacteria that cause the disease can infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord.
  • It spreads by very close contact, like a kiss. Fever, headache and stiff neck are the most common symptoms.

A meningococcal outbreak in Florida killed at least seven people and sickened 26 others.

The CDC calls this deadly spread “one of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in US history.” Health officials are urging people in Florida who may be at risk to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

In particular, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend meningococcal vaccination for men who have sex with men and who live or may be traveling to Florida.

Sam Crowe, a CDC epidemiologist who worked on the outbreak, told Insider it was “frankly, pretty scary” and that “many of the cases are actually younger men” who “were healthy adults.” Some had HIV, which is a known risk factor for meningococcal disease. “These people were hospitalized and underwent quite intensive care,” he said.

The agency hopes to get the word out to all men who have sex with men in Florida to get vaccinated with the MenACWY vaccine as soon as possible.

“I don’t think we should avoid explicit messages to communities at risk about what they need to do to protect themselves,” said David Harvey, head of the National Coalition of STD Directors.

Harvey said South Florida has a “robust” network of clinics including the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Latinos Salud and others that can help people get vaccines for free.

“The answer has to be: community education, raise awareness and make sure people get vaccinated,” he said.

Meningococcus spreads through close contact, like a kiss

According to the CDC, six of the deaths and 24 of the infections so far have involved gay and bisexual men who have sex with men.

Like monkeypox, meningococcus is not sexually transmitted, nor is it a gay disease. Rather, it is a bacterium – Neisseria meningitidis – present in about 1 in 10 people at any one time. It can infect anyone in close contact with an infected person or carrier.

“People don’t catch the bacteria through casual contact or breathing air where someone with meningococcal disease has been,” the Florida Department of Health said in April. “It requires close contact over a period of time or direct contact like kissing or sharing a drink.”

This may be a big part of why the disease has disproportionately affected some demographic groups in Florida, but not others.

Crowe said the two patients who were identified in the outbreak who are not men who have sex with men actually “have no direct links to any of the other cases,” and this is not uncommon with this disease, as it can be multiple transmission cycles without any detection.

Symptoms begin vaguely and worsen rapidly

Meningococcal disease, although rare, can cause death within as little as 24 hours after symptoms begin.

“It’s a terrible disease, so preventing it through vaccination is the best public health medical intervention,” Crowe said.

Meningococcus can infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord, causing meningitis, and it can also invade the bloodstream. This is how bacteria kill people.

The most common early symptoms are high fever, headache, and stiff neck, which typically occur three to four days after exposure.

“Symptoms may initially appear as a flu-like illness, but they typically get worse very quickly,” the CDC said.

Other signs to look out for include: nausea, vomiting, and a dark purple rash.

Vaccines and antibiotics are available, but you need to act fast

Meningococcal vaccines are already recommended for all teens in the United States, but if it’s been more than 5 years since your last injection, you may need a booster, so see your doctor.

Since the disease is caused by a bacterium (not a virus), doctors can prescribe antibiotics. But also with


antibiotics

, up to 15 in 100 people with meningococcal disease die and up to 1 in 5 survivors develop long-term disabilities, such as brain damage. Other long-term problems resulting from the disease can include deafness, and some people may need to have multiple limbs amputated.

The CDC is working to identify people who may have been exposed to this outbreak and prescribe them antibiotics as prophylaxis, which Crowe says is very effective in preventing disease. The agency is also broadcasting some of its messages in Spanish, as 14 of the 26 cases so far have been in Hispanic individuals.

“Due to the outbreak in Florida and the number of Pride events taking place across the state in the coming weeks, it is important that gay and bisexual men living in Florida are vaccinated and those who travel to Florida talk to their own. doctor to get a MenACWY Vaccine, “said Dr. José Romero, who directs the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

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