• Six deaths have been reported among gay and bisexual men
  • Authorities are stressing the importance of getting vaccinated
  • Meningococcal bacteria can be spread through respiratory or throat secretions

Six deaths have been reported due to a meningococcal disease outbreak in Florida. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is calling it "one of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in U.S. history."

The CDC is collaborating with the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) in investigating the outbreak, the agency noted in a press release Wednesday. Back in April, the FDOH noted that the meningococcal disease cases this year had already surpassed the five-year average in Florida. The CDC, in its latest update, reported "at least" 24 cases and six deaths among gay and bisexual men.

While the outbreak has mostly affected those living in Florida, there have also been cases among those who visited the state from other parts. The CDC has urged gay and bisexual men to get the meningococcal vaccine.

"Getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease is the best way to prevent this serious illness, which can quickly become deadly," said José R. Romero, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "Because of the outbreak in Florida, and the number of Pride events being held across the state in coming weeks, it's important that gay and bisexual men who live in Florida get vaccinated, and those traveling to Florida talk to their healthcare provider about getting a MenACWY vaccine."

Meningococcal bacteria can be spread through respiratory or throat secretions during close or lengthy contact such as kissing or by being close to someone who is coughing. The initial signs are similar to those of flu, which include high fever, vomiting, stiff neck, headache and a dark purple rash. However, it can get worse "very quickly."

The two common types of meningococcal infections are septicemia and meningitis, with the latter affecting the spinal cord and the lining of the brain. Both are "very serious and can be deadly in a matter of hours."

"Meningococcal disease can affect anyone," noted the CDC. "Seek medical attention right away if you have symptoms of meningococcal disease."

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