Health Officials Warn of Meningococcal Disease Spreading in Virginia

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Virginia has issued a warning about a meningococcal outbreak, a “rare and serious” bacterial disease that can cause meningitis.

According to a VDH announcement on Wednesday, since June 2022 there have been 27 reported cases of the disease in eastern, central, and southwest Virginia. This is three times more than the number of cases expected in this time frame.

The VDH first announced a regional outbreak in September 2022, in eastern Virginia. This is where the majority of cases were reported.

The VDH last updated the public on March 20, 2022. At that time, 12 cases of meningococcal invasive disease had been reported between June 2022 and March 2022.

The agency reported that five people have died as a result of complications related to meningococcal infection.

The VDH determined, by analyzing DNA from patients that these cases were “highly genetically connected”.

The majority of patients affected are Black or African-American adults aged between 30 and 60.

Meningococcal Disease: What You Need to Know

Meningococcal diseases are caused by Neisseria Meningitidis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10% of people carry this bacteria, but they do not get sick. The bacteria can be harmful to some.

Meningococcal infection can be spread by respiratory and throat secretions. This is often done through coughing, kissing, or sharing cups, utensils, or other objects. The CDC notes that it’s not as contagious as a cold or flu.

The bacteria that cause meningitis can cause swelling in the brain and spine.

Symptoms include fever, headache, and stiff neck. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity.

According to the CDC, the bacteria can cause a bloodstream infection known as meningococcal septicemia. This can result in bleeding into the organs and skin.

This infection is characterized by fever, chills, and fatigue. It can also cause severe muscle pains, vomiting, diarrhea, and rapid breathing.

The diagnosis is made by a lumbar syringe or spinal tap. This involves the testing of samples of cerebrospinal liquid for bacteria.

The CDC notes that patients need immediate antibiotic treatment. Severe cases may also need blood pressure medication, breathing support, wound care for damaged skin, or surgical removal of dead tissue.

10 to 15% of patients die from this disease.

1 in 5 people will experience long-term disabilities, such as brain damage or hearing loss.

How to prevent the spread of

The VDH recommends that you follow these protocols in order to prevent meningococcal infection:

  • Avoid sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, lipsticks, and vapes
  • Practice good hand hygiene
  • Keep a distance from sick people
  • Seek immediate medical attention upon noticing symptoms

Vaccines are available to prevent meningococcal infection.

According to the CDC, all teens and preteens between 11 and 12 should receive the MenACWY vaccine. This is followed by a booster at 16 years of age.

The CDC website states that children and adults who are at high risk should receive the MenACWY vaccination.

Teenagers and young adults (16 to 23 years of age) can also receive a MenB vaccination.