5 people have died in a meningococcal disease outbreak in Va.

There have now been five deaths across Virginia in a “statewide outbreak of meningococcal disease,” according to Virginia’s health department.

The state has seen nearly 30 cases of the disease since June of last year, including five that turned deadly.

“That is above what we would expect to see, which is why we are monitoring it and why we want people to know what’s happening,” said Dr. Laurie Forlano, who heads the health department’s office of epidemiology.

Thirty cases is roughly three times the number that would normally occur over the same period of time, according to Forlano.

Meningococcal disease is rare but can be very serious.

It takes close or lengthy contact to spread it, as the disease is largely passed on through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions. For example, it could be spread by kissing or by sharing a toothbrush.

“It is, for the most part, considered to be a vaccine-preventable disease,” Forlano explained. “If you’re a parent, or someone who takes care of children, check their vaccine records and talk to their doctor.”

The vaccine, which is called the “MenACWY shot,” is currently recommended for teenagers. They are encouraged to get a dose of the vaccine prior to entering 7th grade and a booster before 12th grade.

“It’s a newer recommendation that has been in place since about 2005,” said Forlano.

Symptoms of the disease can first appear flu-like and may quickly become more severe.

People can develop serious forms of illness, such as meningitis, which is inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord.

According to the health department, “you should not delay seeking care if you or a loved one experience the following symptoms: fever, chills, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to bright light and possibly a rash.”

Forlano said the health department has “not identified a common risk factor” in this current outbreak.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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