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Health officials urge vaccination amid deadly outbreak of meningitis in Florida

By HealthDay News
Health officials urge vaccination amid deadly outbreak of meningitis in Florida
Twenty-four cases of meningitis (meningococcal disease) and seven deaths among gay and bisexual men are under investigation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Public Health. Photo by DarkoStojanovic/Pixabay

One of the worst meningitis outbreaks in U.S. history has prompted public health officials to urge gay and bisexual men who live in Florida or plan to visit the state to get vaccinated right away.

Twenty-four cases of meningitis (meningococcal disease) and seven deaths among gay and bisexual men are under investigation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Public Health. Officials said it was among the worst outbreaks ever among this group.

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"Getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease is the best way to prevent this serious illness, which can quickly become deadly," said Dr. José 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 health care provider about getting a MenACWY vaccine."

MenACWY is shorthand for meningococcal vaccine.

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The CDC is also emphasizing the importance of routine MenACWY vaccination for people with HIV.

Meningococcal disease can affect anyone. It includes infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and the bloodstream.

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Vaccination is the best protection against it.

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To find out where to get the shot, call your health care provider, pharmacy, community health center or local health department, the CDC suggests. Insurance should pick up the tab for those for whom it is recommended during an outbreak.

During the outbreak, anyone in Florida can get a free MenACWY vaccine at any county health department.

If you have symptoms of meningitis, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Symptoms can appear suddenly. They include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea/vomiting or dark purple rash.

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The symptoms can first appear as a flu-like illness, but typically worsen very quickly.

The bacteria that cause the illness are spread through respiratory and throat secretions (saliva.) Typically, spreading these bacteria requires close or prolonged contact, such as kissing or being near an infected individual who is coughing.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on meningococcal disease.

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