By Naomi Thomas, CNN
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Florida Department of Health are investigating “one of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in U.S. history,” the CDC said Wednesday.
The CDC said Thursday there have been 26 cases and seven deaths from meningococcal disease in Florida during the investigation period. Among those, 24 cases and six deaths were in men who have sex with men.
The CDC says the outbreak is “primarily among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, including those living with HIV. Recent data show that about half of the cases associated with this outbreak are among Hispanic men. This outbreak is mostly affecting people who live in Florida but has also affected some people who have traveled to Florida.”
Meningococcal disease includes meningitis — infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord — and bloodstream infections. “Meningococcal disease can affect anyone and can be deadly,” the CDC said in its statement.
The bacteria is spread through sharing respiratory or throat secretions, such as saliva or spit. It normally takes close or lengthy contact, for example kissing or being close to someone who is coughing, to spread the bacteria.
Symptoms include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea or vomiting or a dark purple rash, the CDC said. While they can first appear as flu like, they typically get worse very quickly. If someone has these symptoms, they should seek medical attention immediately.
CDC is recommending that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men get the meningococcal vaccine if they live in Florida, or talk to their health care provider if they are traveling to the state. For those who live with HIV, health officials are emphasizing the importance of routine vaccination.
“Getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease is the best way to prevent this serious illness, which can quickly become deadly,” said Dr. José R. Romero, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, in the CDC news release. “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.”
The vaccine is offered at doctors’ offices, pharmacies, community health centers or local health departments, the CDC said, and insurance should cover the cost for people for whom the vaccine is recommended during an outbreak. Anyone in Florida can get the vaccine at no cost at county health departments during the outbreak.
According to the CDC, the outbreak affecting men who have sex with men is caused by serogroup C. There is also an unrelated serogroup B cluster among college and university students in one county.
The meningococcal disease outbreak update comes as the CDC has been tracking an unusual outbreak of monkeypox in countries where the disease is not endemic, including the United States. The CDC reports has reported 142 orthopoxvirus cases in the United States, including 13 in Florida.
The threat to the general US population is low, the CDC says, but there are notably high numbers of monkeypox cases among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. “However, anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk,” the CDC notes.
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Clarification: On Thursday, the CDC updated and corrected the total number of cases and deaths from meningococcal disease in Florida, including the number among men who have sex with men.