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CDC reports increase in disease that could become life-threatening within hours

Crystal Graham
sick black man
(© Prostock-studio – stock.adobe.com)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health advisory on Thursday reporting an increase in invasive meningococcal disease.

There were 422 cases reported in the United States in 2023, the highest annual number of cases since 2014, and the numbers continue to rise in 2024.

The Virginia Department of Health warned Virginians about the outbreak in August after five patients died from complications associated with the disease.

The increase in the disease may affect people of any age but current increases are mostly among people ages 30-60 years, Black or African American, or people with HIV.

Meningococcal disease most often presents as meningitis with symptoms that may include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, photophobia, or altered mental status. It may also present as a meningococcal bloodstream infection with symptoms that may include fever and chills, fatigue, vomiting, cold hands and feet, severe aches and pains, rapid breathing, diarrhea, or, in later stages, a dark purple rash.

According to the CDC, symptoms can worsen rapidly, and the disease could become life-threatening within hours.

Immediate antibiotic treatment for meningococcal disease is critical.

Survivors may experience long-term effects including deafness or amputations of the extremities.

The bacteria is spread from person to person through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions including kissing, coughing or sneezing directly into the face of others, or sharing cups, water bottles, eating utensils and cigarettes, according to VDH.

VDH: Tips for prevention

  • Don’t share personal items (vapes, lipsticks, toothbrushes, etc.)
  • 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

Virginia Department of Health warns of meningococcal disease outbreak
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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.