The meningococcal outbreak in Florida is killing queer men of color

When it comes to life-threatening diseases, not everyone is treated equal.

Illustration of meningococcemia, the dissemination of bacteria Neisseria meningitidis into the blood...
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At this point I’m convinced that diseases are homophobic. Just consider all the havoc they’ve caused during Pride month alone. First, we had the ongoing monkeypox outbreak and now the meningococcal disease has already infected 24 people and killed seven in Florida — most of them gay and bisexual men.

This is one of the worst meningococcal outbreaks in U.S. history and the CDC is recommending that all men who have sex with men get the vaccine for the bacteria if they live in or are traveling to Florida. They’ve also urged all college students in Leon County, which includes Tallahassee, to consider getting vaccinated.

Meningococcal disease includes meningitis, an infection that can be bacterial, viral, or even parasitic. Bacterial meningitis, which is the one currently spreading, is the most serious because it attacks the brain and spinal cord and can cause death in a matter of hours in extreme cases, per the CDC. Symptoms to look out for include sudden high fever, nausea, and a purplish skin rash, according to the New York Department of Health. Many people recover without problems but a few are left with permanent brain damage.

Like most outbreaks, this latest bout of meningococcal disease is predominantly affecting vulnerable populations. About half of the people infected so far in Florida have been Hispanic men, according to CNN, and new cases are still being reported. The bacteria is mostly spread through prolonged contact with someone who is coughing or through kissing and sharing drinks.

If you are a queer man, do not panic; this is not even close to being a pandemic yet. We can still enjoy what we have left of Pride month, but it is important to make sure that you are up to date with your shots. Also, you should get the meningococcal vaccine (MenACWY and MenB), which is available in pharmacies and community health centers. If you are showing symptoms, go to your doctor immediately because the bacteria is still treatable with antibiotics if caught early.