State health officials are warning the public about a rise in the number of statewide cases of meningococcal disease. However, there are few cases in the Tampa Bay region.
The disease first appears as a flu-like illness, with fever, headache and a stiff neck, and rapidly worsens, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The two most common types of meningococcal infections are meningitis and septicemia, both of which can be deadly in a matter of hours. In meningitis, bacteria infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord and cause swelling.
Florida has recorded 43 cases this year, according to Department of Health data. That is more than double the state’s five-year average of 19 cases annually and well above the 27 cases reported in 2021.
No cases have been recorded in Pinellas or Pasco counties and only one in Hillsborough. But four were confirmed in neighboring Polk County. The highest number of cases, 13, were found in Orange County.
People spread meningococcal bacteria to others by sharing respiratory and throat secretions like saliva. Close or lengthy contact is typically required to spread these bacteria.
State epidemiologists are investigating each case and contacting people with potential or direct exposure to known cases, according to state health officials.
While dangerous, meningococcal infections can be prevented and treated. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against the disease. The vaccine is recommended for college students, people with HIV and the immunocompromised.
Maggie Hall, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, said this is a good time for parents getting ready to send children off to college to consider getting them vaccinated. In April, state health officials confirmed three cases in Tallahassee among people ages 18 to 22, although the cases have not been definitely linked to college students.
“You really have to consider their health needs, and the vaccine would be one of them,” Hall said.