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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating one of the worst meningococcal epidemics in gay and bisexual men in the history of the United States, according to a recent press release.
“Getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease is the best way to prevent this serious disease, which can quickly become fatal,” said Dr. José R. Romero, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
“Due to the outbreak in Florida and the number of Pride events being held across the state in the coming weeks, it is 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.”
The agency has reported at least 24 cases and 6 deaths in gay and bisexual men linked to the disease, with about half of the outbreak cases among Hispanic men.
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Cases linked to the current outbreak are primarily affecting those living in Florida, but also affecting some who have traveled to the state.
The CDC recommends the MenACWY vaccine, which protects against meningococcal disease caused by four strains of meningococcal bacteria – A, C, W and Y.
The agency noted that all HIV patients should be routinely vaccinated with the MenACWY vaccine.
The epidemic is caused by serotype C, but there are six serotypes that cause the disease worldwide, although primarily serotypes B, C, and Y cause most meningococcal cases in the United States.
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The CDC is also monitoring an outbreak of monkeypox in countries that don’t normally report the disease, with early data showing high numbers of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.
As of June 23, 173 cases of monkeypox/orthopoxvirus have been reported in the United States, including about 16 cases in Florida, according to the CDC’s website.
Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis.
About 10% of people are colonized by the bacteria in the back of their nose and throat, meaning they are ‘carriers’ who harbor the bacteria in their bodies without getting 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 do not become infected with the bacteria through “casual contact” or by breathing the air where a person with active meningococcal disease s is found.
But when the bacteria invades the body, it can cause two main illnesses: sepsis, where the bacteria invades the bloodstream and damages organs; and meningitis, which is an inflammation of the protective membranes (called meninges) that cover the brain and spinal cord.
Typical symptoms of meningitis may begin as flu-like symptoms that quickly progress to fever, headache, and stiff neck as the bacteria infects the protective membrane of the brain and spinal cord.
Meningococcal sepsis, also known as meningococcemia, causes bleeding in the skin and other organs as bacteria multiply and destroy blood vessel walls, often resulting in a dark purple rash in the later stages of the disease .
Symptoms of sepsis also include fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, cold extremities, rapid breathing, and severe pain in muscles, joints, chest, or stomach.
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“People can find a meningococcal vaccine by contacting their doctor’s office, pharmacy, community health center or local health department. Insurers must pay for meningococcal vaccination for those for whom it is recommended during In Florida, anyone can get a MenACWY vaccine at no cost at any county health department during the outbreak,” the CDC said.