CDC investigates ‘very serious’ outbreak of meningococcal disease in Florida

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Health are investigating what has been called one of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease in US history.

Meningococcal disease can be “very serious and” often fatal, according to the CDC. So far this year, state health officials report that the number of meningitis cases in Florida has surpassed the five-year average.

Health officials say the outbreak is disproportionately affecting LGBTQ men. 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.

RELATED: The Florida Department of Health Urges Vaccinations Against Meningococcal Disease

The CDC now recommends gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men get a meningococcal vaccine (MenACWY) if they live in Florida. Health officials also emphasize the importance of routine MenACWY vaccination for people with HIV.

Anyone can get a MenACWY vaccine for free at any county health department during the outbreak.

Meningitis vs Meningococcal Disease: There IS a Difference

Having meningitis does not always mean you have meningococcal disease. And having meningococcal disease doesn’t necessarily mean you have meningitis. The CDC says: meningococcal disease is any disease caused by a type of bacteria that Neisseria meningitidis† These diseases are serious and include meningitis and bloodstream infections (blood poisoning).

bacterial meningitis

bacterial meningitis is serious. Some people with the infection die, and death can occur within hours. However, most people recover from bacterial meningitis. Those who do recover may have permanent disabilities, such as brain damage, hearing loss, and learning disabilities.

In general, 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 different types of bacteria to each other.

Viral meningitis

Viral meningitis (when meningitis is caused by a virus) is the most common form of meningitis. Most people get better on their own without treatment. However, anyone with symptoms of meningitis should see a doctor right away, as any form of meningitis can be serious.

People can spread the viruses that cause viral meningitis to other people. If you are in close contact with someone who has viral meningitis, they can 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

Fungal meningitis can develop after a fungal infection spreads from elsewhere in the body to the brain or spinal cord.

Parasitic meningitis

Several parasites can cause meningitis or affect the brain or nervous system in other ways. In general, parasitic meningitis is much less common than viral and bacterial meningitis.

amebic meningitis

Primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) is a rare brain infection that is usually fatal and caused by a free-living amoeba (a single-celled living organism too small to be seen without a microscope).

From 1962-2019, 148 U.S. infections were reported to CDC with no more than 8 cases per year.

Symptoms

Symptoms may come on suddenly and include a high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea/vomiting, or a dark purple rash. Symptoms may first appear as a flu-like illness, but usually worsen very quickly. People spread meningococcal bacteria to others by sharing airway and throat secretions (saliva or spit).

The CDC says it generally takes close or prolonged contact, such as kissing or being near someone who is coughing, to spread these bacteria.

Find a meningococcal vaccine by contacting your

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