HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – The Virginia Department of Health is continuing to respond to the outbreak of the meningococcal disease in eastern Virginia.

According to VDH, since June 2022, there have been 12 cases of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) serogroup Y in eastern Virginia. This is double the cases notified by the VDH in September 2022.

Case-patients are all residents of Hampton Roads and most are Black or African American adults between 30 to 60 years of age. According to VDH, none of the case-patients is fully vaccinated for serogroup Y.

“We can’t speak to exactly why it is happening primarily in the African American community, but we do know 11 cases in this outbreak are unvaccinated,” said VDH, Vaccine Preventable Disease Coordinator Meredith Robinson.

All rising seventh graders and high school seniors are required to have the meningitis vaccine for school, but Robinson told WAVY “the mandate didn’t come about until after 2006 so those diagnosed in the outbreak were much less likely to have received the shot.”

Most case-patients have presented with symptoms of IMD meningococcemia, including fever, chills, nausea and vomiting.

Three patients have died from complications associated with the disease, indicating the outbreak strain may have a higher fatality rate than commonly observed in serogroup Y cases.

The bacteria is spread through saliva or spit. VDH advises people to not share personal items such as food, drinks, cigarettes or vapes and lip balm.

Health officials also recommended the guidelines below to help decrease the spread of the bacteria:

  • Practice good hand hygiene
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Do not delay seeking care if you experience symptoms of meningococcal disease
  • Ensure adolescents and teenagers receive the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) on schedule at 11 or 12 years old and then a booster dose at 16 years old
  • Speak to your healthcare provider if you are at high-risk for meningococcal disease to ensure you are up to date on the MenACWY vaccine

VDH has not identified a common risk factor; it is thought that the cases are connected by asymptomatic community transmission. This bacterium can be commonly found in the nose and throat of people without causing disease.

Robison said in addition to keeping children up to date on vaccines, those at high risk for meningitis should also get the shot.

That includes people with HIV, Sickle Cell Disease, a damaged or removed spleen or complement deficiency.

“We do believe the risk to the public is low but we would encourage people, if they are unsure to still seek out their provider for prompt evaluation because prompt testing and diagnosis is essential to be quickly treated with antibiotics,” Robinson said.

This strain is believed to be circulating more widely, both in Virginia and other states.

For more information regarding the outbreak, CLICK HERE.