The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are urging gay and bisexual men, or men who have sex with men, to get vaccinated against bacterial meningitis following an outbreak in Florida that already ranks among the worst in U.S. history.
Health officials have reported that there have been at least 26 cases and seven deaths among gay and bisexual men in the state, with Latinos making up about half of those being affected by the disease, according to The Associated Press.
While the strain affecting gay and bi men is caused by serogroup C, there is an unrelated serogroup B cluster that has emerged among college students in one Florida county.
While meningitis can be contracted by anyone, the CDC has recommended that gay and bisexual men traveling to Florida should inquire with their personal health care provider about getting the vaccine.
“Because of the outbreak in Florida, and the number of Pride events being held across the state in coming weeks, it’s important that gay and bisexual men who live in Florida get vaccinated, and those traveling to Florida talk to their healthcare provider about getting a MenACWY vaccine,” said José Romero, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Those living with HIV are encouraged to get a two-dose shot of the vaccine, as opposed to the regular single-dose shot. For those with HIV who have already gotten their two-dose shot as adults, they can check with their primary care provider to see if they are up-to-date on their boosters.
Vaccines are typically available at doctor’s offices, pharmacies, community health centers, and local health departments, and are generally covered by insurance. Those in Florida can get the vaccine at no cost through their local county health departments.
Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacteria, and when the linings of the brain and spinal cord become infected, it is called meningitis.
Symptoms include a sudden, high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea or vomiting, and a dark purple rash. Other symptoms that may indicate an infection include photophobia, or eyes being more sensitive to light, and altered mental status or confusion.
Those with symptoms should seek immediate medical treatment, as the disease may be fatal if left untreated.
Meningococcal bacteria is primarily spread to others through respiratory and throat secretions like saliva. The disease is not as contagious as the common cold or the flu, meaning it usually takes a lengthy period of close contact to spread the disease from one person to another.
People most at risk of transmission include those who live in the same household as an infected individual, roommates, health care aides, or anyone with direct contact with the patient’s oral secretions, such as a kissing partner.
Close contacts of an infected individual are encouraged to receive antibiotics, also known as prophylaxis, to help prevent them from contracting the disease.
The meningococcal outbreak comes just as the CDC has been tracking an unusual outbreak of monkeypox in countries where the disease is not endemic.
The government health agency has reported 142 confirmed cases in the United States, and is urging gay and bisexual men, transgender women, sex workers, and those who work in environments where sexual activity happens, such as saunas or bathhouses, to get vaccinated for monkeypox.
Dr. Anil Mangla, chief epidemiologist for the D.C. Department of Health, told Metro Weekly that there have thus far been no cases of meningitis in the District of Columbia among gay or bisexual men.
However, the agency is monitoring the situation, and if a person does become infected, DC Health will conduct contact tracing to ensure any close contacts receive prophylaxis before becoming ill.
Mangla says meningococcal vaccination is often given in a person’s late teens — before they go to college, where dormitories can serve as a breeding ground for the bacteria that causes meningitis — and a second vaccination as an adult.
“These are normal, common vaccinations, depending on age,” Mangla says. “Your physician will tell you, ‘Hey, it’s time for your meningitis vaccine.’ It’s important people keep up to date with these vaccines. And most physicians will be on top of their game when it comes to advising patients to get the meningitis vaccines.”
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