The Virginia Department of Health is warning Virginians of an outbreak of meningococcal disease in eastern, central and southwest Virginia. Five patients have died from complications associated with the disease.
Cases are three times higher than what is normally expected dating back to June of 2022.
The strain associated with this outbreak is known to be circulating more widely in the United States. Despite the notice sent to the public, VDH said the risk to Virginia’s population is low.
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 and Western Tidewater.
While VDH has not identified a common risk factor, most patients are Black or African American adults between 30-60 years of age.
Twenty-six patients were not vaccinated for Neisseria meningitidis type Y.
Meningococcal disease is rare and serious. It can cause meningitis, which is an infection of the brain and spinal cord. It can also cause blood infections.
The spread of meningococcal disease
According to VDH, it takes close or lengthy contact to spread the bacteria. The bacteria spread from person to person through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions including kissing, coughing or sharing eating utensils and cups or cigarettes.
In general, and while this outbreak continues, 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 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.
Symptoms of meningococcal disease
You should not delay seeking care if you or a loved one experience the following symptoms:
- stiff neck
- sensitivity to bright light
- a rash
For additional help, call (877) 829-4682 or visit the VDH meningococcal disease response website.