The State of Virginia has issued a warning of a statewide outbreak of meningococcal disease, a “rare but serious” bacterial illness that can lead to meningitis.
Since June 2022, 27 cases of the disease have been reported in eastern, central and southwest Virginia, three times the expected number of cases in the time frame, according to a Wednesday announcement posted by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).
The VDH first announced a regional outbreak in September 2022 in eastern Virginia, where most cases have been reported.
The last update prior to now was in March 2023, when the VDH announced that 12 cases of invasive meningococcal disease had been reported since June 2022. Up to now, five patients have died from complications related to meningococcal disease, according to the agency.
In analyzing patients’ DNA, the VDH determined that the cases are “highly genetically related” and revealed that most of the affected patients are black or African American adults between the ages of 30 and 60.
Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. Approximately 10% of people have this bacteria but do not become ill, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states. However, for some, the bacteria can cause illness.
Meningococcal disease can be spread through respiratory and throat secretions, often by coughing, kissing or sharing cups or utensils. It is not as contagious as the cold or flu, the CDC noted.
When the disease, however, leads to meningitis, the bacteria causes swelling of the brain and spinal cord. Typical symptoms include fever, headache and stiff neck. Some may also experience nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity and mental disorientation.
Additionally, the bacteria can cause a dangerous bloodstream infection called meningococcal septicemia, which can lead to bleeding into the skin and organs, according to the CDC website.
Symptoms of this infection can include fever, chills, fatigue, vomiting, severe muscle aches, diarrhea, rapid breathing and a dark purple rash.
Diagnosis is made via a lumbar puncture, or a spinal tap, which tests samples of cerebrospinal fluid for the bacteria.
Patients require immediate antibiotic treatment; severe cases may also require blood pressure medications, breathing support, wound care for damaged skin or surgical removal of dead tissue, the CDC noted.
Between 10% and 15% of patients will die from the disease, and one out of five will suffer long-term disabilities including brain damage, hearing loss, limb amputations or nervous system problems.
VDH recommends doing the following to prevent the spread of meningococcal disease:
- Avoid sharing personal items, such as lipsticks, toothbrushes and vapes.
- Practice good hand hygiene.
- Maintain distance from people who are sick.
- Seek immediate medical attention upon noticing symptoms.
Scroll down to leave a comment and share your thoughts.