The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating a deadly outbreak of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in Florida.
Meningococcal disease is a rare but severe illness caused by bacterial infection, which can cause meningitis and blood infections. Roughly 10-14% of those who contract it die, and 20% of those who survive are left with permanent disabilities like brain damage, seizures, deafness, and limb loss.
The CDC has identified at least 24 cases, of which at least six people died, and more than half the cases are among gay and bisexual men.
While 24 may not seem dire, the Florida Department of Health warned about the outbreak in April, noting that the number of cases then was already surpassing the state’s five-year average.
In a press release issued Wednesday, the CDC recommended that “gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men get a meningococcal vaccine (MenACWY) if they live in Florida.”
“Getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease is the best way to prevent this serious illness,” said Dr. José R. Romero, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, per the CDC’s press release.
Romero added, “Because of the outbreak in Florida, and the number of Pride events being held across the state [this month], 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.”
Symptoms of meningococcal disease include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and stiff neck. Dark purple rashes will also form if the infection gets into the bloodstream.
“It’s concerning because it has a pretty high fatality rate,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of California, speaking with ABC News. “This is not like an annoying rash or something like a boil. This is something that can actually kill you … even if you receive antibiotics.”
According to the CDC, “People spread meningococcal bacteria to others by sharing respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit). Generally, it takes close or lengthy contact, such as kissing or being near someone coughing, to spread these bacteria.”
Dr. Luke Johnson, medical director of Metro Inclusive Health, stated to Bay News 9, “Diseases don’t select or discriminate. They are connected with certain behaviors. So if I don’t live with you or I don’t share utensils with that person, if I’m not in close sexual contact, if I don’t kiss them intimately and so on, they should not be concerned.”
Individuals can get the vaccine from their healthcare provider, community health centers, and even pharmacies.
All Florida county health departments are offering free vaccinations for those without medical insurance while the outbreak continues.