TAMPA, Fla. — The Florida Department of Health continues to monitor the state's meningitis outbreak.
“Untreated about 70% of people who get meningitis will actually die from it. So it's incredibly serious,” said Dr. Jill Roberts, Associate Professor for the USF College of Public Health.
The meningitis outbreak in Florida has health officials on high alert. According to the Department of Health, cases so far this year have surpassed the five-year average of meningitis cases in Florida.
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“You don’t have to get a lot of cases before people really start paying attention. The reason that we want to shut it down immediately is because it’s just so dangerous,” said Roberts.
Meningitis is an inflammation of a part of the brain and spinal cord that can be caused by all kinds of things like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and even injuries.
However, this particular outbreak is being ruled by a serious bacterial infection.
“It’s Neisseria meningitidis… That’s that one that’s really quite dangerous and you see these long-term health effects in people who survive Neisseria. And unfortunately it can take lives really really quickly,” said Roberts.
The two groups at risk right now are men who have sex with men and college students.
DOH previously advised the following groups to consider vaccination with a meningococcal conjugate (MenACWY) vaccine during this outbreak:
- College and university students
- Immunocompromised individuals
- People living with HIV
- Men who have sex with men
- People in any groups listed above who received their MenACWY vaccine more than 5 years ago
This is something the University of South Florida has unfortunately experienced before.
"We did lose a student from meningitis, well it’s been more than a decade but we remember because having a young person die very, very quickly is always loss to the university community,” said Roberts.
The type of meningitis health officials are seeing right now does not spread easily. It requires prolonged contact or direct contact like kissing, sharing drinks or utensils, and between people who live together.
Meningitis can start out looking like the flu. Early symptoms include fever, rash, vomiting, nausea, light sensitivity, severe headache, and neck stiffness.
“You really want to note, headache— severe, severe headache plus stiff neck is a warning sign. If you have those two particular symptoms it’s really time to seek some care,” said Roberts.
The good news is meningitis is treatable by antibiotics if caught early enough and is preventable with a vaccine.
“It’s recommended that between the ages of 11 and 12 that individuals get vaccinated. There is a booster requirement that’s boosted at around age 16. We do a lot of catch up in the universities where students have come to us and they are not vaccinated yet for meningitis,” said Roberts.