An outbreak of meningococcal disease in Florida has caused at least 26 cases of the serious illness, an official from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday. Seven of the cases have been fatal, said Sam Crowe, a C.D.C. epidemiologist.
The outbreak is primarily affecting men who have sex with men; at least 24 of the cases and six of the deaths have been among gay and bisexual men, the agency said in a news release. Roughly half of the cases have occurred in Hispanic men.
New cases are still being reported. The outbreak is “very much ongoing,” Dr. Crowe said.
The disease, which is caused by a bacterium, Neisseria meningitidis, is typically spread through close or prolonged contact, via activities such as kissing. It can manifest as meningitis — an inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord — or septicemia, an infection of the bloodstream. The disease remains rare but is serious and can cause death “literally overnight,” said Jill Roberts, a molecular epidemiologist at the University of South Florida.
“The number of cases is not very high,” she added. “However, any cases of meningitis are really considered something that we worry about.”
When caught early, the disease is treatable with antibiotics. It can also be prevented with a vaccine, and health officials are urging at-risk populations, especially men who have sex with men and live in Florida, to get vaccinated.
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