Alert Issued For Outbreak Of Deadly Disease In Florida By State, CDC

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FLORIDA — The Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning residents of an outbreak of the rare but potentially fatal meningococcal disease in Florida.

According to the CDC, outbreaks of meningococcal disease are rare in the United States. Only one in 20 cases is related to an outbreak. However, outbreaks are unpredictable and the outcomes can be devastating to affected communities and organizations, said the CDC.

So far, the number of cases identified in 2022 has passed the five-year average of meningococcal disease cases in Florida.

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Neither the FDOH or CDC reported the number of cases in Florida or specified the five-year average.

According to Florida Health, there were four cases reported in Florida in 2020; five cases in 2019; six cases in 2018; six cases in 2017; four cases in 2016; and eight cases in 2015.

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In 2019, the CDC reported 375 cases of the disease confirmed in the United States, with 35 deaths.

FDOH epidemiologists are investigating each case confirmed in 2022 as well as contacting people with potential or direct exposure to known cases to provide them with information and treatment options.

Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis, also known as meningococcus [muh-ning-goh-KOK-us]. This disease is often severe and includes infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream infections (bacteremia or septicemia).

However, it can be prevented and treated. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against meningococcal disease, according to the FDOH.

The FDOH said the following groups should consider getting a meningococcal conjugate (MenACWY) vaccine during this outbreak:

  • College and university students
  • People who are immunocompromised
  • 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.

The CDC issued the following alert:

“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. 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.”

Fortunately, said the FDOH, these 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.

Early symptoms of the disease include fevers, headaches, a stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, confusion and a rash. Anyone who has been exposed or develops symptoms should be evaluated by a health care provider immediately.

According to Meningitis Research Foundation, around one in 10 people who contract meningococcal disease will die and a third of survivors will be left with serious complications such as amputations, brain damage, hearing loss and blindness.

One deadly complication of meningococcal infection is purpura fulminans where blood clots develop in the bloodstream. These block small blood vessels and cause tissue to die. This is why patients with meningococcal septicaemia lose fingers, toes and entire limbs. Clotting can also damage vital organs.

The FDOH said vulnerable residents can find meningococcal vaccines, including the MenACWY vaccine, by contacting a health care provider, county health department or pharmacy. FDOH county health departments also offer meningococcal vaccines.

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