The CDC has tried to warn men in Florida or traveling to Florida, especially those who identify as gay, bisexual, queer or trans, that they should get vaccinated to prevent them from getting meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease, including meningitis, is a bacterial infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord.
As of Friday, there had been 26 cases and seven deaths, including 24 among men who have sex with men. Six of the deaths were also from the LGBTQ community. Half of the cases have been in men who identify as Hispanic.
The disease does not only affect people who identify as LGBT or Q and the disease does not appear to be tied to any particular event. The CDC is still investigating, but the outbreak is ongoing.
The threat to the general U.S. population is low, according to the CDC, but there are particularly high numbers of monkeypox cases among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. “However, anyone who has been in close contact with someone with monkeypox is at risk,” the CDC notes.
Associate Director of Prevention, Division of Food, Water, and Environmental Diseases at the CDC, Sam Crowe, told CNN on Friday that many meningococcal cases had been concentrated in central Florida, but there are now cases across the state.
The CDC plans to continue to do a major advertising and education campaign in English and Spanish in local newspapers, via gay media and on social apps throughout the summer. The agency says its presence at Pride events will also continue throughout the summer.
People may not know that they need to see a doctor urgently because the symptoms can be very similar to other health issues like a hangover or the flu.
“That’s part of the challenge,” Crowe told CNN. “A high fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, even a dark purple rash. This can however progress very quickly and lead to death in a very short time. So we tell people if they see these symptoms, to definitely see their health care provider as soon as possible.”
It’s not as contagious as the common cold Crowe said, people need close contact with infected people to get sick. But “close contact” can simply mean living in the same household.
It is spread through respiratory secretions, such as saliva or sputum, or can be transmitted through kissing.
“It’s very worrying to see this number of deaths and even the people who survived, there are a lot of really serious sequelae, including potential amputation of a limb and deafness. It’s a very serious disease. and serious,” Crowe said.
People living with HIV are particularly vulnerable because they are immunocompromised.
The CDC has long encouraged people living with HIV to get vaccinated against meningococcal disease to prevent serious illness. But now the CDC is telling the community, regardless of their HIV status, that they should get vaccinated now. Even if they had one as a child. Generally, vaccine protection wears off after about five years.
People should request the MenACWY vaccine. There is another, MenB, but the serogroup C subspecies of the bacteria is what appears to be causing these cases in Florida’s LGBTQ community.
“The vaccine is readily available. People can see their local health care provider,” Crowe said. “The vaccine is also available for free at the county health department. We are trying to make sure that anyone who wants the vaccine can get it as soon as possible.”
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