TAMPA, Fla. — According to doctors, meningococcal disease is extremely dangerous.
“It’s in a total league of its own,” said Dr. Jill Roberts, Associate Professor for the USF College of Public Health. “70% of people who are untreated will die of the disease. With treatment 10% will still die of the disease."
That’s why the Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are sounding the alarm.
The CDC is calling the current meningococcal outbreak in Florida, one of the worst in history.
The CDC confirms at least 26 cases so far and seven deaths in the state.
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“It’s an incredibly, incredibly high number of deaths,” said Roberts.
The disease is mostly spread through saliva and close, lengthy contact.
“The good news about it is it can’t spread nearly as well as the coronavirus. It’s not airborne,” said Roberts.
The two most common meningococcal infections are meningitis, which is an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and a bloodstream infection.
Both can quickly become deadly.
“Be aware of the big three symptoms. If you have a combination of headache, fever, and a stiff neck, you need emergency care. Emergency. You can go from those symptoms to dead in 24 hours,” said Roberts.
Other signs of an infection include:
- a dark purple rash
- symptoms can first seem mild and worsen fast
“If you get aggressive antibiotic treatment very, very quickly you still see one in five individuals lose a limb, lose hearing, have neurological damage, have brain damage. Meningitis is no joke,” said Roberts.
Health officials are now urging people to get vaccinated.
“The vaccine is about 85% efficacious meaning it’s a pretty darn good vaccine,” said Roberts.
Doctors stress this disease is vaccine-preventable.
They’re now urgently pushing for the most vulnerable populations in this outbreak to get vaccinated as soon as possible. That includes:
- men who have sex with men
- people who are HIV positive
- anyone who is immunocompromised
- college students
“It's on the childhood schedule, it’s recommended between the ages of 11 and 12 and has to be boosted,” said Roberts.
“Go get your booster if you haven’t already or go start your primary series,” she added.