The CDC has recently issued an alert regarding an outbreak of meningitis in Florida, primarily among gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men, including those living with HIV. The number of cases reported is higher than the five-year average and investigations are currently underway. Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Carriers of this disease have this bacterium in the back of their nose and throat without showing illness. This occurs in 1 in 10 persons. There are different types of this bacteria, however, those of concern causing the outbreak in Florida are types B, C and Y.
Meningococcal disease spreads from person to person by respiratory or throat secretions. Therefore, the bacteria are spread through close or lengthy contact with an infected person. The bacteria cannot be contracted through respiratory droplets i.e., breathing the same air as an infected person. Complications of this disease are serious and including meningitis and bloodstream infections (septicemia).
The most common signs and symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, and a stiff neck. This can also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Because the disease affects the brain, sensitivity to light and confusion is also possible. It can also be fatal in some cases.
Prevention of this disease is through vaccination with the meningococcal vaccine for high-risk groups. High risk groups include infants, teens and college students who share dorm rooms, the elderly, and people with a weakened immune system. It is important to note that the vaccine does not guarantee 100% protection against the disease.
Antibiotics can also be used to prevent close contacts of those infected from becoming sick. Close contacts are people living in the same household, roommates, and anyone in direct contact with the infected person’s oral secretions. Reinfection with the disease is still possible even after contracting and recovering from the disease.
The TCI has not recorded any cases of meningococcal disease as a result of the recent outbreak in Florida. The last reported case of meningococcal disease in the TCI was in 2012 through importation in a middle-aged visitor with comorbidities. It was a single case who unfortunately succumbed to the disease.
The TCI offers the Pentavalent vaccine to the under 5 years population which offers protection against bacterial meningitis. Over the years the coverage in this vaccine has been maintained at 90% and above. The meningococcal vaccine is not a part of the TCI’s routine vaccination program. Persons interested in the meningococcal vaccine, particularly those in the vulnerable group, are encouraged to speak with their primary care provider for more information about the vaccine.