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Doctors worry about rare, serious meningococcal infections, CDC says

A new warning comes as hundreds of cases reported in the U.S. last year made it the highest yearly level since 2014. This year saw 143 new cases.
Doctors worry about rare, serious meningococcal infections, CDC says
Posted at 4:44 PM, Mar 29, 2024

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an urgent warning to doctors amid fears of a resurgence of a rare and invasive bacteria that can infect the brain and spinal cord.

This invasive meningococcal disease has been dangerously prevalent in recent months after an historic surge last year. 

As of March 25, the CDC says at least 143 known cases were reported in the United States. It's setting off alarm bells for public health officials. Last year 422 reported cases in the U.S. sent the level to what at the time was the highest annual number of cases reported in nearly a decade — since 2014. 

In rare cases severe illness caused by the bacteria can be fatal, even with correct antibiotic treatment. 

The CDC said the invasive meningococcal disease that is spreading is "mainly attributable" to the Neisseria meningitidis serogroup Y. The strain is known to disproportionately infect people ages 30 to 60 years old, as well as Black or African American people, who currently make up 63% of cases, the CDC said in a report out this week

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The CDC is asking all healthcare providers to increase their awareness and suspicion of possible cases. 

The CDC says symptoms of infection can include headache, stiff neck, vomiting, fever, nausea, altered mental states and an abnormal sensitivity to light, especially in the eyes. 

It is recommended that all 11- to 12-year-old children receive a meningococcal vaccine — and since protection can wane, health experts recommend a booster dose at age 16. 

If a child develops any symptoms of meningococcal disease, the CDC says medical attention should be sought immediately. Chills, fatigue, fever, cold hands and vomiting are all possible symptoms that could indicate the infection has entered the bloodstream. 

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