The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating “one of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in U.S. history” after at least 24 cases and six deaths were reported in Florida.
In a Wednesday press release, the CDC described a serogroup C meningococcal outbreak that mainly spreads among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, including those with HIV. About half of the cases were reported in Hispanic men. A serogroup is a group of bacteria that share a common antigen.
The CDC, which is investigating the outbreak with the Florida Department of Health, is also investigating a separate serogroup B meningococcal outbreak among college students in Leon County, Fla.
The Florida health department first issued a warning about the outbreak in Leon County in April.
Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis† It can cause a deadly bloodstream infection or meningitis, an infection of the lining of the brain or spinal cord.
The bacteria is spread through close contact, such as coughing or kissing. The most common symptoms of the disease are fever, headache, or a purple rash.
The CDC encourages gay and bisexual men in Florida to get the meningococcal vaccine (or MenACWY), which is free through Florida provincial resources.
José Romero, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said getting vaccinated is “the best way to prevent this serious disease, which can quickly become fatal.”
“Due to the outbreak in Florida and the number of Pride events being held across the state in the coming weeks, it’s important that gay and bisexual men living in Florida get vaccinated,” Romero said in a statement.
“Those traveling to Florida should talk to their healthcare provider about getting a MenACWY vaccine,” he added.