One of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in US history has caught the attention of the CDC, which is working hard to get to the bottom of the outbreak.
At least 24 cases and 6 deaths among gay and bisexual men have been reported so far, according to CDC statistics on June 22.
Meningococcal disease refers to any illness caused by bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. It can involve infections of the brain lining and spinal cord (aka meningitis), plus bloodstream infections. Symptoms can first seem like the flu – including a sudden onset of a high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, and a dark purple rash – but peoples’ conditions can often worsen very quickly.
It’s important to highlight that anyone can catch this infection, not just men who have sex with men, and it isn’t considered a sexually transmitted disease. It’s spread to others through respiratory and throat secretions, like saliva or spit, but generally requires close or lengthy contact such as kissing.
In the ongoing Florida outbreak, there is a large cluster that’s primarily among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, including those living with HIV. It also appears around half of the cases are among Hispanic men. There’s another smaller cluster in Florida that appears to be primarily impacting college and university students.
In light of the risk, the CDC is recommending gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men get a meningococcal vaccine (MenACWY) if they live in Florida or are traveling there. They stress that this is especially crucial for people with HIV who may have dampened immune systems.
“Getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease is the best way to prevent this serious illness, which can quickly become deadly,” José R. Romero, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a statement.
“Because of the outbreak in Florida, and the number of Pride events being held across the state in coming weeks, 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,” continued Romero.