CDC Warns About Rising Bacterial Meningitis Infections in 2024

There have already been more than 140 cases of bacterial meningitis reported in 2024, exceeding the amount reported this time last year.

Bacterial illnesses that can cause meningitis are on the rise this year, according to a new warning from federal health officials.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Health Alert Network (HAN) Health Advisory last week, indicating that cases of invasive meningococcal disease are increasing and are already poised to surpass the number of cases seen in 2023.

The CDC warns the cases are mainly attributed to Neisseria meningitidis serogroup Y. This is an invasive bacterium that can cause meningitis, resulting in dangerous inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, headache, nausea, and stiffness of the neck.

The bacteria can also cause blood infections, including symptoms like fatigue, chills, rapid breathing, and diarrhea. In most cases, the infection can be treated with antibiotics, but identifying the infection is crucial because symptoms can worsen quickly and, in some severe cases, lead to death.

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According to CDC data, there were 422 cases of meningococcal disease reported in the U.S in 2023. This was the highest number of cases reported since 2014, with 81 cases reported by March.

To date, 143 cases have been reported for 2024. This is 62 higher than during the same time period in 2023, with nearly three quarters of the year remaining.

In 2023, 17 patients died from meningitis infections, a fatality rate of 18% according to the CDC. But 2023’s death rate was higher than the historical case death rate of 11% reported from 2017 to 2021.

The cases reported so far this year are disproportionately affecting patients ages 30 to 60 years old, Black patients, and people with HIV, according to the data. Researchers are unsure why cases are on the rise this year.

Meningitis Health Risks

Meningitis is a life-threatening disease that can lead to death. But delays in treatment, even if they do not result in death, can cause long-term side effects, including seizures, brain damage, hearing loss, amputation, and disability.

The bacteria typically spread through droplets from coughing, kissing, lengthy close contact, or sharing utensils. The best preventions are vaccination, masking, and hand washing.

CDC officials recommend people who face the highest risk, including those with HIV, should get a meningococcal vaccine to protect against the strain causing the increasing cases. Children should also receive a meningococcal vaccination to help protect them against infection.

However, patients may become infected without experiencing common meningitis symptoms, so increased screening is necessary to help protect patients, the agency indicates. The CDC urges doctors to be on alert and have heightened suspicion of meningococcal disease among populations disproportionately affected.

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