Saturday, February 24, 2024

Virginia Faces Meningococcal Disease Outbreak

As August ended, there had been 27 confirmed cases of meningococcal disease associated with Virginia’s outbreak, including five deaths. (Adobe Stock)

RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Health has reported a statewide outbreak of meningococcal disease.

It initially began as a regional outbreak in the eastern part of the state one year ago in September, and health department experts don’t know what’s led to this increase in cases over the last year.

However, they’ve found — through genetic sequencing — that these cases are highly genetically related.

Most patients are African American adults between ages 30 and 60.

Dr. Laurie Forlano, state epidemiologist with Virginia Department of Health, described healthy habits to stay safe.

“General health protection practices are advised,” said Forlano, “like washing your hands, staying home when you’re sick, not sharing things — like lipstick or cups, or drinking glasses, toothbrushes, etc. And that can keep you healthy from a lot of things that can be transmitted person to person.”

Meningococcal disease symptoms include fever, chills, headache, stiff neck, nausea and possibly a rash. Rarely it can develop into a more serious illness like meningitis or septicemia.

People can be treated with antibiotics, though some are being asked to get vaccinated if they haven’t been recently.

More information is on the Virginia Department of Health website, ‘vdh.virginia.gov.’

Some of the groups at greater risk of catching this include people who are immunocompromised, or who don’t have a spleen.

Dr. Forlano noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has helped prepare the health department for this kind of outbreak.

“COVID-19, unfortunately, gave us lots of opportunities to practice our skills in disease surveillance and disease investigation,” said Forlano. “We have a lot of really talented epidemiologists on our team.”

While the pandemic helped exercise these skills, she said the components to handle it successfully were already in place.

Local health departments in the state respond to every meningococcal infection. When these reports are received, they confirm each diagnosis with the person’s healthcare provider.

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