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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating one of the worst meningococcal outbreaks among gay and bisexual men in U.S. history, according to a recent press release.
"Getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease is the best way to prevent this serious illness, which can quickly become deadly," said Dr. José R. Romero, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
"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."
The agency has reported at least 24 cases and 6 deaths among gay and bisexual men related to this disease, with approximately half of the outbreak cases among Hispanic men.
The cases related to the current outbreak are most among those who live in Florida but also affected some who traveled to the state.
The CDC recommends the MenACWY vaccine, which protects against meningococcal disease caused by four strains of the meningococcal bacteria – A, C, W and Y.
The agency noted all HIV patients should be routinely immunized with the MenACWY vaccine.
The outbreak is caused by serotype C, but there are six serotypes that cause the disease worldwide, although mainly serotypes B, C and Y cause most of meningococcal cases in the United States.
The CDC is also monitoring a monkeypox outbreak in countries that normally don’t report the disease, with early data showing high numbers among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.
As of June 23, 173 monkeypox/orthopoxvirus cases have been reported in the United States, including approximately 16 Florida cases, per the CDC website.
Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis.
Approximately 10% of people are colonized with the bacteria in the back of their nose and throat, which means they are "carriers" who harbor the bacteria in their body without being sick.
It is spread by close contact usually through coughing, kissing or prolonged contact.
It is not as contagious as cold or flu germs, so people don’t get infected with the bacteria through "casual contact" or breathing the air where someone with active meningococcal disease has been.
But when the bacteria invades the body, it can cause two main illness: septicemia, where the bacteria invades the bloodstream and causes organ damage; and meningitis, which is an inflammation of the protective membranes (known as the meninges) that cover the brain and spinal cord.
Typical symptoms of meningitis may start as flu-like symptoms that rapidly progress into a fever, headache and a stiff neck as the bacteria infect the protective lining of the brain and spinal cord.
Meningococcal septicemia, also known as meningococcemia, causes bleeding into the skin and other organs as the bacteria multiply and destroy the walls of blood vessels, which often leads to a dusky, purple rash in the later stages of the disease.
Septicemia symptoms also include fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, cold extremities, rapid breathing and severe aches in the muscles, joints, chest or belly.
"People can find a meningococcal vaccine by contacting their doctor’s office, pharmacy, community health center, or local health department. Insurance providers should pay for meningococcal vaccination for those whom it is recommended for during an outbreak. In Florida, anyone can get a MenACWY vaccine at no cost at any county health department during the outbreak," the CDC said.