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Meningococcal warnings issued after Florida outbreak

The state Department of Health advised vaccinations for college students, gay men, people with HIV and immunocompromised individuals.

An outbreak of meningococcal disease has led health officials to issue warnings across Florida.

The Florida Department of Health said the rare but potentially devastating disease is treatable and preventable. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against the disease, they said.

The number of cases identified in Florida in 2022 surpasses the five-year average, according to an advisory from the state health department.

"There is a large, ongoing outbreak of meningococcal disease in Florida, primarily among gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men, including those living with HIV," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote on its website. "There have also been cases reported in the state over the last few months, including multiple cases in college students. At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that the cases among college students are related to the larger outbreak."

The increase in cases is mostly affecting people who live in Florida but has also affected some people who have traveled to the state, according to the CDC.

Lisa Rogers, with the state health department in Clay County, said people should take the threat seriously.

The disease is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Early symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, confusion and rash.

Severe cases can be deadly and include infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream, according to the CDC.

The bacteria are not as contagious as germs that cause the common cold or flu. People do not catch the bacteria through casual contact or by breathing air where someone with meningococcal disease has been. It requires close contact over a period of time, or direct contact such as kissing or sharing drinks.

The state health department said the following groups should consider vaccination with a meningococcal conjugate vaccine (or MenACWY) during this outbreak:

  • College and university students.
  • Immunocompromised individuals.
  • People living with HIV.
  • Men who have sex with men.
  • People in any groups listed above who received their MenACWY vaccine more than five years ago.

State 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.
For more information about meningococcal disease, go to the CDC website or the Florida Department of Health website.

Copyright 2022 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.