The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States on Friday issued a health alert about a “large and ongoing outbreak” of meningococcal disease in Florida “primarily among gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men, including those living with HIV.”

The CDC, in response to the outbreak, said it was encouraging gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men, with or without HIV, to get vaccinated if they live in Florida or were travelling to Florida. 

According to the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), the number of cases recorded so far in the first three months of 2022, had surpassed the five-year average of cases of meningococcal disease in Florida. 

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“FDOH epidemiologists are investigating each case as well as contacting people with potential or direct exposure to known cases to provide them with information and treatment options,” the department said in a statement. 

Rare, But Life-Threatening Disease

“Meningococcal disease is a rare, but serious and life-threatening, infection. Symptoms appear suddenly and people can die very quickly without medical help,” the Australian government’s Department of Health says on its website

The disease is caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria and is transmitted through “close and prolonged contact with mucus from an infected person.”

The bacteria cannot live outside for more than a few seconds and is not as contagious as the germs that cause the common cold or flu. The disease cannot be spread by casual contact, sharing food or by breathing the air in a room where a person with meningococcal disease has been, CDC said.

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2″Meningococcal disease spreads when people are in very close contact with each other for a long time – for example, kissing intimately or living in the same household,” the DOH said. 

Get Vaccinated

The early symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, confusion, and rash. Early diagnosis is crucial as it helps the health team to start treatment with antibiotics.

The easiest way to prevent getting infected by Meningococcal infection is by getting vaccinated against the disease. “Ideally, people would get vaccinated with one dose (or the 2-dose series for people with HIV) at least two weeks before travelling,” said CDC, adding that it was also emphasising “the importance of routine MenACWY vaccination for people with HIV. For the best protection, people with HIV should make sure they have gotten their 2-dose primary series of a MenACWY vaccine and are up to date with booster doses.”

Meningococcal Disease Outbreak In Victoria in 2017

In 2017, there was an outbreak of meningococcal disease among men who have sex with men in Victoria, Australia. The government funded a free meningococcal vaccination programme for all men who have sex with men in Victoria between December 2017 and December 2018.

A study found that around two-thirds of MSM who attended a sexual health clinic during that period received at least one dose of the vaccine. This coincided with a reduction in the cases of meningococcal disease in the state.

 

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