Dangerous Bacterial Infections on the Rise, CDC Says

2 min read

March 29, 2024 – The CDC is warning health care providers in the United States to be on the watch for a rare bacterial illness that can lead to meningitis and possibly death.

There were 422 cases of this type of invasive meningococcal disease in the U.S last year, the most since 2014, the CDC said in a Thursday health alert. There have been 143 cases so far this year, meaning infections look to be on track to top the number of cases from 2023. 

Most of the cases last year did not involve meningitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord), but at least 17 people died. 

“Cases caused by this strain are disproportionately occurring in people ages 30-60 years (65%), Black or African American people (63%), and people with HIV (15%),” the CDC said.

The CDC said health care providers should have a “heightened suspicion for meningococcal disease,” especially among groups disproportionately affected; be aware that patients may not have symptoms typical of meningitis; and make sure that people are up to date on meningococcal vaccines.

Four subgroups of meningococcal bacteria are known to circulate in the United States: B, C, W, and Y. The CDC is health alert is about cases caused by a particular bacteria strain, ST-1466, which is in the Y subgroup. 

These infections are caused by a strain of Neisseria meningitidis bacteria that can lead to meningitis, the CDC said.

But the agency warns that “patients with invasive meningococcal disease may present with bloodstream infection or septic arthritis and without symptoms typical of meningitis.” 

Symptoms of meningitis infections include a fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, and vomiting. The bacteria can cause bloodstream infection with symptoms including chills, cold hands and feet, diarrhea, and a dark purple rash. 

Symptoms can quickly worsen, and it's important to get treatment with antibiotics right away, the CDC says. 

“Survivors may experience long-term effects such as deafness or amputations of the extremities,” according to the federal health agency. 

Meningitis vaccines are routinely recommended for adolescents and people with health conditions such as HIV.