Florida Health warning of meningococcal disease outbreak among gay, bi men

(Photo from Florida Department of Health website)

ORLANDO | The Florida Department of Health, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warns of an outbreak of meningococcal disease among men who have sex with men in Florida.

The current number of cases identified exceed the 5-year average in the state, FDOH advised in a press release, and epidemiologists are investigating each case as well as contacting people with potential or direct exposure to known cases to provide them with information and treatment options.

Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. According to the CDC, the two most common types of meningococcal infections are meningitis, an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and bloodstream infection, both of which can quickly become deadly. It is contracted by having close contact with someone who has the disease over a period of time, or direct contact such as kissing or sharing drinks; however, it is not as contagious as germs that cause the common cold or flu, according to FDOH.

Early symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, confusion and rash. FDOH advises anyone who has been exposed or develops symptoms should be evaluated by a health care provider immediately as this is a rare but potentially devastating disease.

The CDC is encouraging gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men to get a MenACWY vaccine as it is the best protection against meningococcal disease. FDOH is also advising anyone who is living with HIV, immunocompromised or a college/university student to also get vaccinated, as they have found three cases among individuals in Tallahassee aged 18-22. The CDC is reporting that, at this time, there is no evidence to suggest that the cases among college students are related to the larger outbreak.

Speaking with 90.7 WMFE, Hope & Help’s Medical Director Dr. Trey Vanderburg says the health center is currently out of vaccines but has taken steps to get more in.

“If it’s been more than 5 years that you’ve had your meningococcal vaccine, please go get a booster,” Vanderburg told WMFE. “Another thing I would do is just be cognizant of the risk factors. This is something that is transmitted through saliva. Therefore sharing drinks, sharing food, extended kissing. Those are things that can help propagate the spread of this as well.”

BLISS Health has also ordered the vaccine, according to WMFE, and the LGBT+ Center Orlando says they are working with the health department to set up a vaccine site at The Center in Orlando for both the MenACWY and Hep A vaccines.

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