The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an alert about an outbreak of meningococcal disease in the US state of Florida. According to the agency, 26 serious cases of the disease and seven deaths have already been identified.
It is noteworthy that the outbreak is mainly affecting men who have sex with men. At least 24 of the cases and six of the deaths were among gay and bisexual men, the agency said in a press release.
Although the number of cases is not high, meningitis records are worrying because the disease progresses very quickly. Initially, the symptoms resemble those of the flu and further include a high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea or vomiting, or a dark purple rash.
The CDC recommends that men who have sex with men get the meningococcal vaccine if they live in Florida, or talk to their doctor if they are planning to travel to the state.
The two most common types of meningococcal disease are meningitis, which is an infection of the membranes that line the brain and spinal cord, and bloodstream infection, which can kill from a generalized infection.
The disease, which is caused by a bacterium, Neisseria meningitidis, is usually transmitted by close or prolonged contact, through respiratory or throat secretions such as saliva. Kissing someone who is infected or being close to someone who is coughing can spread the virus.
Fortunately, the bacteria are not as contagious as the flu virus, for example, and there is no transmission by casual or brief contact.
According to the Brazilian Society of Immunizations (SBIm), from 1,500 to more than 3,000 Brazilians are affected every year by the disease that can be prevented with a vaccine.