Meningitis outbreak reported in Central Florida

The Florida Department of Health is warning people out about an outbreak of meningitis cases across the state that is mostly impacting men who have sex with men and college students. Now, the state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are encouraging people in high risk groups to get vaccinated. Jill Roberts, a USF associate professor teaching global communicable diseases, said this particular strain is worrisome. “It’s very dangerous,” she said. “If you do not treat Neisseria meningitidis, in about 70% of cases, it’s actually fatal. Even with treatment, one in five people will have prolonged illness.” In some cases, Roberts said people have lost their hearing, suffered seizures and lost limbs. But in this age of the COVID pandemic, she said the meningococcal disease does not spread nearly as quickly as the coronavirus. “So the good news is that it’s much harder to spread,” she said. “And so for you to spread Neisseria, you have to be in close contact. This is not a disease that is spread in coughing and breathing.”Some examples of transmission are sharing utensils, kissing and sexual contact. “What you don’t need to worry about it sitting in class next to an individual,” said Roberts. “But what you do need to worry about is sharing items. So if you’re having food you don’t want to necessarily say, ‘Here, try my food on my fork that I’ve had in my mouth.’”Roberts said symptoms and effects can include a stiff neck, headache, fever , rash, vomiting and infection of the bloodstream. Among those, she said the main red flags are a sudden onset of a headache and stiff neck. The state and CDC said the following groups should consider getting a meningococcal vaccine:-College students-Men who have sex with men-People living with HIV-Immunocompromised people-People in any of the groups listed above who received their vaccine more than 5 years ago So how widespread is this outbreak? State data shows 21 cases across Florida which the health department said is more than the five-year average. Most of the cases are in Central Florida, with the highest concentration in Orange County. Orange = 6 casesLake = 3 casesBrevard = 2 casesOsceola = 1 caseSeminole = 1 case*Source: FL Dept of Health ” she said. “So the way that we used to make vaccines back in the day that took a long, long time to make them and to actually approve them, they’re those types of vaccines.”

The Florida Department of Health is warning people out about an outbreak of meningitis cases across the state that is mostly impacting men who have sex with men and college students. Now, the state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are encouraging people in high risk groups to get vaccinated.

The specific illness is called the meningococcal disease and is caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. Jill Roberts, a USF associate professor teaching global communicable diseases, said this particular strain is worrisome.

“It’s very dangerous,” she said. “If you do not treat Neisseria meningitidis, in about 70% of cases, it’s actually fatal. Even with treatment, one in five people will have prolonged illness.”

In some cases, Roberts said people have lost their hearing, suffered seizures and lost limbs.

But in this age of the COVID pandemic, she said the meningococcal disease does not spread nearly as quickly as the coronavirus.

“So the good news is that it’s much harder to spread,” she said. “And so for you to spread Neisseria, you have to be in close contact. This is not a disease that is spread in coughing and breathing.”

Some examples of transmission are sharing utensils, kissing and sexual contact.

“What you don’t need to worry about it sitting in class next to an individual,” said Roberts. “But what you do need to worry about is sharing items. So if you’re having food you don’t want to necessarily say, ‘Here, try my food on my fork that I’ve had in my mouth.’”

Roberts said symptoms and effects can include a stiff neck, headache, fever, rash, vomiting and infection of the bloodstream. Among those, she said the main red flags are a sudden onset of a headache and stiff neck.

The state and CDC said the following groups should consider getting a meningococcal vaccine:

-College students

-Men who have sex with men

-People living with HIV

-Immunocompromised people

-People in any of the groups listed above who received their vaccine more than 5 years ago

So how widespread is this outbreak? State data shows 21 cases across Florida which the health department said is more than the five-year average. Most of the cases are in Central Florida, with the highest concentration in Orange County.

Orange = 6 squares

Lake = 3 squares

Brevard = 2 squares

Osceola = 1 box

Seminole = 1 space

*Source: FL Dept of Health

As far as the meningococcal vaccines go, Roberts said they have been around for decades.

“They are old, tried, true vaccine technology,” she said. “So the way that we used to make vaccines back in the day that took a long, long time to make them and to actually approve them, they’re those types of vaccines.”

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