The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is encouraging gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) who either live in or are traveling to Florida to get a meningococcal vaccine.
Florida is currently experiencing what the CDC described as “one of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in U.S. history.” The CDC reports that nearly half of the cases in this current outbreak are among Hispanic men. There is an additional outbreak of the disease in the state, but authorities say it is of a different serogroup and isolated to college and university students in Leon County.
“Meningococcal disease is serious and can be deadly. But we have a powerful tool to help save lives -- we encourage all gay and bisexual men who live in Florida to get vaccinated, and those traveling to Florida should talk with their healthcare provider about getting a MenACWY vaccine,” Dr. Sam Crowe, PhD, MPH, an epidemiologist, said in a statement.
There are at least 13 different groupings of the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. Six basic serogroups – A, B, C, W-135, X, and Y – are responsible for nearly all cases of the disease worldwide. Instances of meningococcal disease in the U.S. are almost exclusively caused by serogroups B, C, and Y, and are treated with two vaccines – meningococcal conjugate or MenACWY vaccines and serogroup B meningococcal or MenB vaccines.
The CDC is recommending the MenACWY vaccine for gay, bisexual, and MSM living in or traveling to Florida because the outbreak is related to serogroup C. The CDC is recommending the MenB vaccine for college and university undergraduate students, students living on campus, and those who participate in a fraternity or sorority.
Symptoms for meningococcal disease include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, and a dark purple rash. Symptoms may initially mirror those of the common flu but worsen quickly. Meningococcal bacteria can be spread through respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit), which is why meningitis is sometimes known as the kissing disease.
Two of the more serious infections resulting from the disease are meningococcal meningitis, an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and meningococcal septicemia, an infection of the blood. Both meningococcal meningitis and meningococcal septicemia can result in permanent debilitating conditions and death.
Common symptoms of meningococcal meningitis include fever, headache, and stiff neck. Additional symptoms include nausea, vomiting, photophobia (eye sensitivity to light), and confusion. Common symptoms for meningococcal septicemia include fever and chills, fatigue, vomiting, cold hands and feet, severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest, or abdomen, rapid breathing, diarrhea, and in the later stages, a dark purple rash. You should immediately contact your doctor if you exhibit these symptoms.
You can also contact your doctor, pharmacy, community health center, or local health department to obtain a vaccination for meningococcal disease. Insurance providers should cover the cost for those under recommendation for the vaccine. In Florida, the MenACWY vaccine is available free of charge at any county health department during the outbreak.