What you need to know about a meningococcal disease outbreak in Florida

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(BPT) - There is an outbreak of meningococcal disease in Florida, primarily among gay and bisexual men. Since December 2021, there have been at least 24 cases and 6 deaths among gay and bisexual men, making it one of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease among this population in U.S. history. Some of the people affected are living with HIV. In addition, 13 of the 24 cases are among Hispanic men. Gay and bisexual men who live in or are traveling to Florida can help protect themselves by getting vaccinated.

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is a rare, but serious infection caused by a specific type of bacteria — and it can affect anyone. The bacteria can cause meningitis, which is an infection of the lining of the brain or spinal cord. The bacteria can also cause a bloodstream infection called meningococcal septicemia. Both infections can worsen quickly and cause death. Meningococcal meningitis is different from meningitis caused by viruses, fungi or parasites, and is generally more serious.

How is the disease spread?

The bacteria that cause meningococcal disease are spread through saliva or spit and respiratory droplets. Typically, it spreads after close contact, including from kissing, or being around someone for a long time who is infected.

How can I best protect myself?

CDC recommends gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men get a meningococcal vaccine (MenACWY) if they live in Florida or talk with their health care provider about getting vaccinated if they are traveling to Florida. CDC is also emphasizing the importance of routine MenACWY vaccination for people with HIV, regardless of where they live or travel. Vaccination offers the best protection against meningococcal disease. Ideally, people traveling to Florida should get vaccinated with one dose at least two weeks before their trip. People living with HIV should get a two-dose series.

How can I get vaccinated?

You can find a MenACWY vaccine by contacting your doctor’s office, pharmacy, community health center or local health department. If you are recommended MenACWY vaccination during an outbreak, it should be covered by your insurance provider. Many local health departments will also provide this vaccine at no cost.

What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?

Symptoms of meningococcal disease often appear as a flu-like illness, and then can rapidly worsen over a few hours to a few days. These can include:

  • For meningitis:
    • Sudden high fever
    • Severe headache
    • Stiff neck
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Eyes being more sensitive to light
    • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • For meningococcal septicemia:
    • Fever and chills
    • Fatigue (feeling tired)
    • Vomiting
    • Cold hands and feet
    • Severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest or abdomen (belly)
    • Rapid breathing
    • Diarrhea
    • In the later stages, a dark purple rash

If you or someone you know starts experiencing these symptoms, seek medical care right away. The infection can be life threatening, especially if not treated immediately.

Visit CDC’s website for more information on meningococcal disease and to stay up to date on the latest news related to the outbreak.