- A meningococcal outbreak has killed a quarter of people infected this year, according to an official.
- The bacteria that causes people to get sick can infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord.
- Vaccines offer the “best protection” against meningococcal disease, the CDC has said.
A meningococcal disease outbreak in Florida has killed a quarter of people who have been infected this year, a health official has said.
Twelve people died among 48 cases of meningococcal disease reported in Florida in 2022, Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health (FDH) in Pinellas County, told Insider.
Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacteria, called Neisseria meningitidis, which can infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord, or cause a bloodstream infection.
Choe said the meningococcal disease outbreak is more concerning to him than monkeypox, which has spread quickly in the US in recent months, the Miami Herald reported.
Meningococcal disease causes fevers and neck stiffness
The most common symptoms of meningococcal disease are high fever, headache, and a stiff neck, but the illness can also cause a characteristic dark purple rash, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and confusion.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Choe, per the Miami Herald, have urged anyone who is exposed to meningococcal disease or gets symptoms to seek immediate medical attention, because the disease can be treated with antibiotics.
People catch meningococcal disease from prolonged close contact with an infected person, such as when sharing drinks or kissing. According to the FDH, it is not as contagious as the common cold or flu, and the bacteria doesn’t spread during casual contact or from breathing the air where an infected person has been.
It is rare for people in the US to get sick from this bug, in part because meningococcal vaccines protect against four of the five most common types of Neisseria meningitidis, and are part of the routine vaccine schedule for US teens.
Anyone can catch meningococcal disease
Choe said on Wednesday that in Florida, meningococcal disease was primarily affecting gay men, but it wasn’t “confined to one particular community,” per the Miami Herald. “Anyone is susceptible,” he said.
The situation comes amid an outbreak of monkeypox that is primarily affecting gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men but, as Insider’s Hilary Brueck previously reported, it isn’t a “gay disease.”
Choe said meningococcal disease concerns him more “to some degree,” and is deadlier than monkeypox, which hasn’t killed anyone in the US.
The CDC said on June 22, when there were 24 cases and 6 deaths, that the meningoccocal outbreak in Florida was “one of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in US history.”
Choe urged men who have sex with men and people who are immunocompromised to get a vaccine, which is freely available in the state, the Miami Herald reported.
Dr. José R. Romero, director at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a statement in June: “Getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease is the best way to prevent this serious illness, which can quickly become deadly.”