7 people have died amid 'one of the worst meningococcal outbreaks' in US history. The CDC is urging people to get vaccinated.
- A meningococcal disease
outbreakhas killed at least seven people in Florida, and sickened 26.
- The bacteria that causes the illness can infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord.
A meningococcal disease outbreak in Florida has killed at least seven people and sickened 26 more.
The CDC is calling this deadly spread "one of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in US history."
Specifically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending meningococcal vaccination to men who have sex with men, and who live in or may be traveling to Florida.
Sam Crowe, an epidemiologist with the CDC who's been working the on outbreak told Insider it's "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 pretty intensive care," he said.
The agency is hoping 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 they can.
"I don't think we should be shying away from explicit messages aimed at communities at risk about what they need to do to protect themselves," David Harvey, head of the National Coalition of STD Directors, said.
"The response has to be: community education, increasing awareness, and making sure that people are getting vaccinated," he said.
Meningococcal spreads through close contact, like kissing
According to the CDC, six of the deaths and 24 of the infections so far have been in gay and bisexual men who have sex with men.
Like monkeypox, meningococcal is not sexually transmitted, nor is it a gay disease. Rather, it is a bacteria — Neisseria meningitidis — that is present in about 1 in 10 people at any time. It can infect anyone who is in very close contact with an infected person or a carrier.
"People do not catch the bacteria through casual contact, or by 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 such as kissing or sharing drinks."
This may be a big part of the reason why the illness has been disproportionately hitting certain demographic groups in Florida, but not others.
Crowe said that the two patients who've been identified in the outbreak who are not men who have sex with men actually "don't have direct links with any of the other cases," and that's not uncommon with this disease, as there can be multiple rounds of transmission without any detection.
Symptoms start vague, and worsen quickly
Meningococcal disease, while rare, can cause death in as little as 24 hours after symptoms begin.
"It's a terrible disease, so preventing it through vaccination is the best medical
Meningococcal can infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord, causing meningitis, and it can also invade the bloodstream. This is how the bacteria kills people.
The most common early symptoms are high fever, headache, and a stiff neck, which typically present around three to four days after exposure.
"Symptoms can first appear as a flu-like illness, but typically worsen very quickly," the CDC said.
Other signs to watch out for include: nausea, vomiting, and a dark purple rash.
Vaccines and antibiotics are available, but you have to act fast
Meningococcal vaccines are already recommended for all teenagers in the US, but if it's been more than 5 years since your last shot, you may need a booster, so check with your healthcare provider.
Because the disease is caused by a bacteria (not a virus) doctors can prescribe antibiotics. But even with antibiotics, up to 15 in 100 people with meningococcal disease die, and to 1 in 5 survivors develop long-term disabilities, such as brain damage. Other long term issues resulting from the illness can include deafness, and some people may need multiple limbs amputated.
The CDC is working to identify people who may have been exposed in this outbreak, and prescribe them antibiotics as a prophylaxis, which Crowe said is very effective at preventing disease. The agency is also doing some of its messaging in Spanish, as 14 of the 26 cases so far have been in Hispanic individuals.
"Because of the outbreak in Florida, and the number of Pride events being held across the state in coming weeks, 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," Dr. José Romero, who directs the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said.
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