Florida is dealing with several epidemics – COVID, monkeypox, dengue fever. But meningococcal disease is now also on the minds of health experts.
So you might be wondering: what do you need to know and what can you do about it?
READ MORE: Florida’s meningitis epidemic is much more serious than monkeypox, says the state’s top doctor
In a chat with reporters, Dr. Ulyee Choe, statewide medical director of the Florida Department of Health, compared the adverse effects of monkeypox to meningococcal disease that can lead to fatal meningitis. . He didn’t like what he saw in the Sunshine State.
“Meningococcal disease, to some extent, concerns me more given the severity of the disease,” Choe said.
Here’s why you too may be worried and have questions about meningococcal disease.
Florida Meningitis Count
Florida recorded 48 cases of meningococcal disease from Jan. 1 to July 20, 2022, according to the state health department.
With 14 cases reported so far, most of these meningitis cases have been discovered in central Florida, Orange County, home of the Orlando area and home to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios.
But South Florida has also seen cases.
Miami-Dade had four, Broward had two, and Palm Beach County had one. As of July 20, no cases have been reported in the Florida Keys.
By comparison, Florida had 27 cases of meningococcal disease in 2021, 17 cases in 2020 and 23 in 2019 — up from the 48 cases recorded midway through 2022.
Of those 48, a quarter – or 12 people – have died in Florida after contracting meningitis so far this year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This figure represents a mortality rate of 25%.
Not to minimize monkeypox, but as of mid-July, no deaths from monkeypox have been reported in Florida or the United States.
What is meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria called Neisseria meningitidisalso known as meningococcus.
These illnesses are often serious and include infections and swelling of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and blood infections (bacteremia or sepsis), according to the CDC.
Three layers of membranes called meninges protect the brain and spinal cord, explains the Mayo Clinic. Therefore, when this disease progresses and infects the brain and spinal cord, it is called “meningitis”.
How is meningitis transmitted?
Meningococcal disease is not as contagious as the germs that lead to colds or the flu or COVID-19, which can be contracted by breathing in respiratory droplets in the air of and near an infected person.
On the contrary, meningitis usually requires close contact to pass it from person to person, according to the Florida Department of Health. Consider kissing or sharing your food or drink where you could pass on respiratory and throat secretions like saliva. Living near an infected person can also promote the spread of the disease.
Symptoms of Meningococcal Disease
Early symptoms of the disease include:
▪ Fever, headache, torticollis
▪ Nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light
▪ Confusion and rash, usually red and purple in color.
Symptoms in Infants
Symptoms in infants may differ and may include sluggishness or inactivity, irritability, vomiting, poor feeding or a bulging soft spot on the baby’s head.
What can meningitis do to you?
“Even with antibiotic treatment, 10 to 15 out of 100 people with meningococcal disease will die,” according to the CDC. Up to one in five survivors will have long-term disabilities, such as:
▪ Loss of limbs
▪ Nervous system problems
▪ brain damage
Who is most at risk?
READ MORE: There’s a meningitis outbreak in Florida. Here’s who’s at risk and what you need to know
▪ A CDC outbreak advisory said Florida has a “large, continuing epidemic of meningococcal disease,” primarily among gay men, bisexuals, and men who have sex with men, including those living with HIV, reported. the Miami Herald in April.
Other at-risk groups include:
▪ Immunocompromised people, such as people with HIV, those whose spleen has been damaged or removed, people with sickle cell disease, people taking complement-inhibiting drugs, people with complement component deficiency, a said Mary Jo Trepka, professor and chair of Florida International University’s Department of Epidemiology at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work.
▪ People living near other people. This could include freshmen (or newcomers who haven’t been vaccinated) who live in dormitories and US military recruits.
▪ People traveling to parts of the world where meningococcal disease is common. Currently, the highest incidence occurs in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is hyperendemic, according to the CDC. There, meningitis can reach up to 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
Are Floridians more at risk?
“Florida is in the midst of a meningococcal epidemic. Florida hasn’t traditionally necessarily had a bigger problem with meningococcal disease than other places,” Trepka said.
Is there a test for meningitis?
According to the Florida Department of Health, if meningococcal disease is suspected, a doctor may order samples of blood or cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounds the spinal cord, for lab testing.
How is meningococcal disease treated?
Prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential.
Doctors can prescribe antibiotics to treat meningococcal disease.
“People with meningococcal disease are no longer able to transmit it to others after taking an appropriate antibiotic for 24 hours,” according to the Florida Department of Health citing the CDC.
But some people may also need advanced medical attention, which could mean treatment in an intensive care unit.
How to protect yourself
The CDC and the Florida Department of Health recommend vaccinations against meningococcal disease. Additionally, “maintaining healthy habits, such as getting enough rest and not coming into close contact with sick people, can also help.”
Who should get vaccinated?
“The epidemic we are experiencing in Florida among gay and bisexual men is due to serogroup C of the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria,” Trepka said.
She points out the two types of meningococcal vaccines that are also noted by the CDC:
▪ Meningococcal conjugate vaccines or MenACWY.
▪ Vaccines against meningococcal serogroup B or MenB.
“MenACWY protects against serogroups A, C, W. And while MenB protects against serogroup B, MenACWY is the one recommended in this [Florida] epidemic,” Trepka said.
“The MenACWY vaccine is systematically offered every 11-12 years with a booster dose at 16 years. This is because teenagers and young adults are at high risk,” she said.
All at-risk groups — including the immunocompromised — and those at higher risk of exposure, such as new college students who will be living in dormitories, and during this Florida outbreak, should consider getting the MenACWY vaccine.
“And there’s nothing wrong with someone else getting the vaccine,” Trepka said. “It’s a very safe vaccine, but it’s very important that these high-risk groups get vaccinated.”
This story was originally published July 21, 2022 6:28 p.m.