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Health

Bacteria That Cause Meningitis Are Spreading Again, C.D.C. Warns

The disease is caused by infection with a bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. Last year, 422 cases of invasive meningococcal disease were reported in the United States, the highest number since 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But as of Monday, 143 cases have been reported to the CDC so far this year, 62 more than the number of cases reported last year during the same period.

The disease is extremely dangerous. Even with proper treatment, 10 to 15 percent of patients who develop meningococcal disease will die. Many recent cases have been caused by an unusual strain of N. meningitidis called ST-1466. This strain caused 17 deaths among 94 patients with known outcomes, for a mortality rate of 18 percent.

Meningococcal disease survivors can be left with long-term disability, deafness, amputations or brain damage.

The majority of those affected in recent outbreaks have been Black people and adults aged 30 to 60.

Others susceptible to infection include people living with HIV, who make up 15 percent of patients; people who have had their spleen removed; people with sickle cell disease; and patients with certain rare immune diseases.

A meningitis vaccine that protects against four of six types of N. meningitidis, including group Y, which includes ST-1466, is recommended for adolescents as well as those with illnesses like HIV. Most older people have not received the vaccine.

In Virginia, which has recorded 35 cases of meningococcal disease and six deaths since the summer of 2022, public health officials have not found an epidemiological link explaining the outbreak, said Dr. Laurie Forlano, state epidemiologist. .

“We’re still trying to find the golden ticket of common risk factors,” Dr. Forlano said. “Were they all at a party together or a family event? Were they all in a certain facility? Are there any social networks they share? That’s simply not the case here.

The disease is not spread by casual contact, but by activities that involve exposure to saliva or respiratory or throat secretions – kissing, for example, or sharing food, drinks or cigarettes.

The infection can cause meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, neck stiffness, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and altered mental status.

Bacteria can also invade the bloodstream, a complication called sepsis, which appears to be the most common consequence of current cases of serogroup Y. Symptoms include fever and chills, fatigue, vomiting, hands and cold feet, severe aches and pains, diarrhea, rapid breathing and, in later stages, a dark purple rash.

Symptoms can intensify quickly and become life-threatening within hours. Antibiotics must be administered quickly.

“When it comes to meningococcal disease, people think of meningitis, which is a very scary disease,” Dr. Forlano said. “But what we’re trying to get across to the clinical community is that these cases present differently than what we’re used to seeing. So, hey, think about that.

Despite the risk, she stressed that the disease remained rare. “The threat to the general public is low,” she said.

News Source : www.nytimes.com
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