Health & Wellness

Chicago health officials warn of rise in meningococcal disease

Meningococcal disease is a rare, but serious bacterial infection that impacts the lining of the brain and spinal cord and blood stream and it can be deadly. Meningitis is one form of the disease

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Chicago public health officials are warning about a rise in cases of meningococcal disease.

Meningococcal disease is a rare, but serious bacterial infection that impacts the lining of the brain and spinal cord and blood stream and it can be deadly. Meningitis is one form of the disease.

The Chicago Department of Public Health has identified eight cases of meningococcal disease so far in 2024, and seven cases in 2023, compared to the one to three cases per year for the years of 2017 to 2022.

In a health alert posted online, CDPH said the 15 Chicago cases from 2023-2024 included nine between the ages of 30 and 60 and eight who were Black, non-Hispanic.

The alert comes less than two months after the CDC warned of a nationwide increase in cases.

“We are monitoring this situation very closely and so far have identified no common exposure among Chicago cases,” said CDPH Commissioner Olusimbo 'Simbo' Ige, MD, MPH. “While cases remain very rare, we want people to be aware because the outcomes can be so severe. As with other illnesses such as COVID-19 and measles, keeping up to date with recommended vaccines is the best protection against meningococcal disease.”

There is a required vaccine in Illinois. The first dose is given at age 11-12, with a booster dose administered at age 16. CPDH is urging parents and caregivers make sure the vaccine is administered on schedule.

CPDH is also encouraging everyone to be aware of symptoms, which vary depending on the type of infection. According to CDPH the symptoms include:

  • While symptoms of meningococcal disease can at first be similar to the flu, they worsen rapidly, and the disease can become life-threatening within hours.
  • Symptoms of meningitis may include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, photophobia (sensitivity to light), or altered mental status.
  • Symptoms of meningococcal bloodstream infection may include fever and chills, fatigue, vomiting, cold hands and feet, severe aches and pains, rapid breathing, diarrhea, or, in later stages, a dark purple rash.
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