Six queer men die of rare meningococcal disease in ‘one of worst outbreaks in US history’

Illustration of spiky green cells among stringy-looking red cells

An outbreak of meningococcal disease primarily affecting queer men in Florida is one of the worst outbreaks in US history, the CDC has said.

As of Thursday (23 June) there have been 24 cases and seven deaths of gay and bisexual men from meningococcal disease, according to CNN.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that although meningococcal disease can affect anyone, the current outbreak is “primarily among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, including those living with HIV”.

It added: “Recent data show that about half of the cases associated with this outbreak are among Hispanic men. This outbreak is mostly affecting people who live in Florida but has also affected some people who have traveled to Florida.”

Meningococcal disease describes illnesses caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. This can include infections of the lining of the brain, the spinal cord and the bloodstream, according to the CDC.

Symptoms include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea/vomiting, or a dark purple rash. The symptoms can first appear to be similar to flu-like illnesses, but worsen very quickly.

Meningococcal disease is transmitted through close contact such sharing respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit). Generally, it takes close or lengthy contact, such as kissing or being near someone coughing.

The CDC has recommended queer men who live in Florida or are travelling to the state get a vaccination for the disease.

José R. Romero, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said: “Because of the outbreak in Florida, and the number of Pride events being held across the state in coming weeks, it’s important that gay and bisexual men who live in Florida get vaccinated, and those traveling to Florida talk to their healthcare provider about getting a MenACWY vaccine.”

The strain of meningococcal being detected in the current outbreak is serogroup C. There is an unrelated serogroup B outbreak being seen among students in one county.

The CDC noted that meningococcal has a pattern of infections spiking every seven to 10 years.

The meningococcal outbreak was spotted as a result of health authorities tracking monkeypox, another illness that can affect anyone but is being disproportionately detected among queer men.

Currently in the USA there 142 cases of monkeypox, including 13 in Florida, per CNN.

Monkeypox continues to spread worldwide as Singapore, South Africa and South Korea have all this week recorded their first cases of the infection.