ORLANDO, Fla. – The Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday that it is working with the Florida Department of Health to investigate “one of the worst” outbreaks of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in Florida.
Records from the CDC indicate at least 24 cases and 6 deaths have been reported in Florida alone. Of those, the Florida Department of Health reported 13 cases over the past month.
The CDC recommended men who have sex with other men get a meningococcal vaccine if they live in Florida, emphasizing the importance of routine vaccinations for people with HIV.
“Getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease is the best way to prevent this serious illness, which can quickly become deadly,” said José Romero, director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “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 (meningococcal) vaccine.”
Dr. Jonathan Appelbaum, a professor at Florida State University’s College of Medicine, said the cases of infections in Florida make it clear an outbreak is underway, pointing to symptoms that people should watch out for.
“People get sick pretty quickly,” Appelbaum said. “They’ll develop a headache, stiff neck, and they develop a classic purple rash on their body.”
While the CDC noted that gay and bisexual men tend to be the likeliest victims of the disease, Appelbaum said it’s still capable of infecting anyone.
“This is not a disease of gay men or men who have sex with it,” he said. “It’s a bacteria, and viruses don’t know your sexual orientation. They don’t know your race. They don’t know your gender. They are bugs, and they get transmitted from one person to another by the same mechanism.”
The CDC said people can find a meningococcal vaccine by contacting their doctor’s office, pharmacy, community health center or local health department. The center added that Florida residents can get these vaccines at no cost at any county health department during the outbreak.
The Center, a LGBT-support clinic in Orlando, will be holding a 24-hour vaccine drive at its Hillcrest location — located at 1200 Hillcrest St., Suite 102 — from Friday at 2 p.m. until Saturday at 2 p.m. The Center said it will be providing meningococcal vaccines and food for free.
Meningococcal disease can infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord and cause further infections in the bloodstream.
For more information about the disease, visit the CDC’s website here.