At least seven deaths in FL from meningococcal disease; one of the worst outbreaks in U.S. history

By: and - June 22, 2022 1:37 pm

Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. Credit: CDC

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday reported at least seven deaths among gay and bisexual men from the serious meningococcal disease outbreak in Florida and at least 24 cases of the disease.

The agency described the situation in a news release as “one of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in U.S. history.”

While the CDC referenced those figures Wednesday, data from the Florida Department of Health showed 44 cases of the disease in 16 counties in Florida as of Wednesday.

It’s not clear, though, if those 44 cases include deaths from the disease. The news release Wednesday afternoon was published by CDC media relations. The state health department is overseen by Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo.

The Florida Phoenix contacted the state department of health several times to get information about the meningococcal deaths, but Press Secretary Jeremy Redfern has not responded.

Also, the state health department’s website doesn’t show anything about the deaths. And the agency’s twitter feed doesn’t mention the deaths either, leaving Floridians in the dark on this disease.

The federal agency states that “meningococcal disease can lead to meningitis (infection and swelling of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) and septicemia (infection of the bloodstream).”

The CDC’s news release said that: “Getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease is the best way to prevent this serious illness, which can quickly become deadly,” said José R. Romero, M.D., Director, 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 MenACWY vaccine.”

That said, the CDC made clear in the news release that “meningococcal disease can affect anyone and can be deadly.”

Data from the 44 cases from the Florida health department show that Orange County, in the Orlando and Central Florida area, has the largest number of cases, at 13.

The other cases are located in Alachua (1 case), Brevard (2), Broward (2), Collier (1), Duval (1), Hardee (1), Hillsborough (1), Lake (3), Lee (4), Leon (3), Miami-Dade (3), Osceola (1), Palm Beach (1), Polk (4) and Seminole (3).

Meanwhile, the state health department in Orange County “has been actively engaged in prevention and vaccination efforts to contain the rise of meningococcal cases in the county,” said Kent Donahue, a spokesman from the Orange County health department.

“To date, DOH-Orange (County) has participated in 66 community outreach events since February 2022,” Donahue told the Florida Phoenix in an email, adding that it “has provided prevention and vaccination messages to community partners and local medical providers.”

The spokesman for the state health department in Orange County did not provide any details about deaths due to the meningococcal disease.

Although cases of meningococcal have been identified in various age groups, state data show, more young residents have been infected, as of Wednesday. For instance, the most cases (8) have been reported among the 30-34 age group, followed by six cases each identified in age groups of 20-24 and 25-29, as well as five cases among the 35-39 age group.

The CDC states that a meningococcal vaccine can be found at a doctor’s office, pharmacy, community health center, or local health department. “In Florida, anyone can get a MenACWY vaccine at no cost at any county health department during the outbreak,” the CDC said in the press release.

Symptoms of meningococcal disease include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea/vomiting, or a dark purple rash and the disease can spread “by sharing respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit),” the CDC noted.

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.

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