NewsDesk @bactiman63

Virginia state health officials report a statewide outbreak of meningococcal disease. Twenty-seven cases of meningococcal disease, caused by the bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis type Y, have been reported in eastern, central, and southwest Virginia since June 2022.

Image/The National Atlas of the United States of America

The following local health districts have had at least one outbreak-associated case of meningococcal disease reported: Alleghany, Hampton, Henrico, Norfolk, Peninsula, Pittsylvania/Danville, Portsmouth, Roanoke, Southside, Virginia Beach, Western Tidewater.

This development is three times the expected number of cases during this time period. Most cases are residents of eastern Virginia (20).

Five patients have died from complications associated with this disease. The strain associated with this outbreak is known to be circulating more widely in the United States.

A common risk factor has not been determined; however, genetic sequencing of available specimens has confirmed the cases are highly genetically related.

Most case-patients are Black or African American adults between 30-60 years of age. Twenty-six case-patients were not vaccinated for Neisseria meningitidis type Y.

Neisseria meningitidis

Meningococcal disease is a rare, but serious illness caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. People spread meningococcal bacteria to other people by sharing respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit). An infected person can spread the bacteria by kissing, coughing or sneezing directly into the face of others, or sharing cups, water bottles, eating utensils, cigarettes, lipstick, or toothbrushes. People do not catch the bacteria through casual contact or by breathing air where someone with meningococcal disease has been.

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Most people exposed to this bacteria do not become ill. A small proportion of infected people can develop a serious form of illness, such as meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) or a bloodstream infection (septicemia). Symptoms can first appear flu-like and quickly become more severe.

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In general, and while this outbreak continues, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) recommends:

  • Don’t share personal items (e.g., vapes, lipsticks, toothbrushes).
  • Practice good hand hygiene.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Do not delay seeking care if you experience symptoms of meningococcal disease.
  • Ensure adolescents and teenagers receive the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) on schedule at 11 or 12 years of age and then a booster dose at 15-16 years of age.
  • Speak to your healthcare provider if you are at increased risk for meningococcal disease to ensure you are up to date on the MenACWY vaccine.

The meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) can provide protection against Neisseria meningitidis type Y. VDH encourages parents and healthcare providers to make sure that children receive all recommended vaccines. Teenagers should receive their first dose of MenACWY vaccine prior to entering 7th grade, and a booster dose before 12th grade. If you are a part of a group that is at increased risk for meningococcal disease, including people living with HIV, those whose spleen is damaged or removed, people with sickle cell disease, anyone with a rare immune condition called “complement deficiency” or anyone taking a type of drug called a “complement inhibitor,” you should talk to your healthcare provider to make sure you are up to date on the MenACWY vaccine.

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