At least six people have died in Florida as the state battles “one of the worst epidemics of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in U.S. history,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. said wednesday.
The outbreak is both sudden and deadly, with the six deaths coming from a total of just 24 cases among gay and bisexual men in Florida this year, the CDC said.
The outbreak has left Florida health officials and LGBTQ+ groups scrambling to alert the public to the deadly disease, which the CDC says is usually fatal in about one in ten cases and can cause brain damage or loss of a limb in one in five cases.
Half of Florida’s cases recently have come from the Orlando metro area, according to the Florida Department of Health. The others were spread across the state.
Although the disease does not spread as easily as the common cold or flu, infected people can transmit it by “sharing respiratory and throat secretions,” such as saliva or saliva, according to the CDC. This means it is usually spread by kissing or being near someone who is coughing.
Early symptoms of the disease include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea or vomiting, or a dark purple rash. Although initially resembling the flu, these symptoms have been known to worsen quickly, according to the CDC.
Health officials are pushing for all gay and bisexual men to immediately receive the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY). Dr. José R. Romero, director of the National Center for Vaccination and Respiratory Diseases, said in a statement that the disease is highly preventable through vaccination.
“Getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease is the best way to prevent this serious disease, which can quickly become fatal,” Romero said. “Due to the outbreak in Florida and the number of Pride events being held across the state in the coming weeks, it is important that gay and bisexual men who live in Florida get vaccinated and those traveling to Florida talk to their health care provider about getting a MenACWY vaccine.