Meningococcal Disease Outbreak Response

Summary

The Virginia Department of Health is responding to a statewide outbreak of meningococcal disease caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis serogroup Y. The first case was reported in June 2022, and a community outbreak was declared in the eastern region in September 2022. The outbreak strain has since been detected in the central, southwest, and northern regions of Virginia. Keeping up to date with recommended vaccines is the best protection against meningococcal disease. People at increased risk for meningococcal disease should also make sure they are up to date on the MenACWY vaccine.

Outbreak Cases by Region

Since June 2022, there have been 32 confirmed cases of meningococcal disease associated with this outbreak, including 6 deaths.† A common risk factor has not been determined; however, genetic sequencing of available specimens has confirmed the cases are highly genetically related.

Region* Cases†
Central 3
Eastern 23
Northern 1
Northwest 0
Southwest 5
Total 32

* The following local health districts have reported at least one outbreak-associated case of meningococcal disease: Alleghany, Fairfax, Hampton, Henrico, Norfolk, Peninsula, Pittsylvania/Danville, Portsmouth, Roanoke, Southside, Virginia Beach, and Western Tidewater.

† As of: 2/6/24, Data are updated monthly (first Tuesday). Data are preliminary and subject to change. VDH uses whole genome sequencing to confirm outbreak-associated cases. The results are available about 30-60 days after CDC receives the specimen. Cases are defined using the national meningococcal disease case definition.

What You Should Do

The meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) can provide protection against Neisseria meningitidis serogroup Y. VDH encourages parents and healthcare providers to ensure adolescents and teens receive the meningococcal conjugate vaccine on schedule at 11-12 years of age, with a booster dose at 16. Contact your local health department if you have questions about your options for accessing the MenACWY vaccine.

People at increased risk for meningococcal disease should make sure they are up to date on the MenACWY vaccine.

This includes:

  • People with HIV.
  • Anyone whose spleen is damaged or removed, including people with sickle cell disease.
  • Anyone with an immune condition called "complement deficiency" or anyone taking a type of drug called a "complement inhibitor" (for example, Soliris® or Ultomiris®).

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is a rare, but serious illness caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. People spread meningococcal bacteria to other people by sharing respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit). An infected person can spread the bacteria by kissing, coughing or sneezing directly into the face of others, or sharing cups, water bottles, eating utensils, cigarettes, lipstick, or toothbrushes. People do not catch the bacteria through casual contact or by breathing air where someone with meningococcal disease has been.

Most people exposed to this bacteria do not become ill. A small proportion of infected people can develop a serious form of illness, such as meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) or a bloodstream infection (septicemia). Symptoms can first appear flu-like and quickly become more severe.

You should not delay seeking care if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Meningitis: sudden fever, headache, stiff neck, and light sensitivity.
  • Bloodstream infection: sudden fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Symptoms can differ in infants and may include:

  • Inactivity, irritability, vomiting, poor feeding, or a bulging soft spot on their head.

Page last updated 02/06/2024.