3 dead following meningococcal disease outbreak in Virginia

A public health warning has been issued by Virginia state health officials as a deadly meningococcal disease outbreak continues to spread in eastern Virginia.

A dozen cases of the more severe invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) type Y have been reported since June 2022, with three deaths tied to complications associated with the disease.

The Virginia Department of Heath said the strain is believed to also be circulating beyond the state’s borders.

While it has not identified a common risk factor, all known Virginia cases are Hampton Roads residents, who are mostly Black adults between the ages of 30 and 60 years old.

The health department said 11 cases involved patients who were not vaccinated for meningococcal disease type Y. In one case, a patient was only partially vaccinated.

Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis and can spread from person to person through respiratory and throat secretions, according to state health officials.

Symptoms can first appear flu-like and may quickly become more severe, including fever, chills, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to bright light, and possibly a rash. State health officials said early detection and diagnosis are key for timely treatment with antibiotics.

Good hand hygiene, not sharing personal items, avoiding close contact with sick people, and seeking care promptly if symptoms of the disease occur, are encouraged, according to the Virginia Department of Heath.

For people considered high-risk for meningococcal disease, including those living with HIV, those whose spleen is damaged or removed, those with sickle cell disease, those with a rare immune condition called “complement deficiency” or those taking a type of drug called a “complement inhibitor,” the Virginia Department of Heath said it is important they speak with a health care provider to ensure they are up to date on the MenACWY vaccine.

It said children and teenagers should receive the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) on schedule.

Virginia established a website as part of its response to the meningococcal disease outbreak.

Matt Small

Matt joined WTOP News at the start of 2020, after contributing to Washington’s top news outlet as an Associated Press journalist for nearly 18 years.

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