SWFL medical experts on Florida outbreak of meningococcal disease

Published: June 27, 2022 6:12 AM EDT

Southwest Florida medical experts are warning people about the state’s recent outbreak of meningococcal disease, a blood infection that can prove deadly within a day or two of contracting it.

Meningococcal disease impacts the brain and spinal column. So far, there have been seven deaths from the disease in Florida. Sufferers can experience flu-like symptoms, but you can also develop a dark purple rash and have severe aches in the muscles, joints and chest in the later stages. Experts say the disease can be difficult to treat once it reaches that stage.

There are different strains of the disease, but the one we are seeing in Florida spreads quickly and is potentially deadly. Experts aren’t sure why yet, but the CDC is urging gay and bisexual men, in particular (though anyone can be affected), to get vaccinated before traveling to the Sunshine State.

“This particular disease, and this particular type that we’re seeing, is really spread by close contact, including close respiratory droplets,” said Bob Hawkes, director of the physician assistant program at Florida Gulf Coast University. “It seems to have been the feeling is brought into the United States from a different part of the world, and it seems to be congregating in a smaller population, which is where it’s being spread. And that’s what we’re seeing.”

Doctors say the best thing to do for anyone is get vaccinated against meningococcal disease, especially if you are traveling or going to places where there are crowds.

“Meningitis is a very unforgiving infection,” said Dr. Alejandro Perez-Trepichio, chief medical officer for Millennium Physician Group. “This is the importance of recognition, early on, of the symptoms, because treated, in many cases, the recovery is full and doing well. So, let’s be clear: The vaccine is to prevent, but then we have to treat. The vaccine is not to be given to somebody who is sick, it’s to prevent somebody from getting the infection in the first place.”