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Deadly Bacterial Meningitis Is Spreading in the U.S., CDC Says—These Are the Symptoms

There's been an uptick in cases in the first few months of 2024.

While allergies may be top of mind with the arrival of spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just issued a warning about some more pressing concerns. In a March 28 Health Advisory alert, the agency called attention to an uptick in invasive meningococcal disease in the U.S. According to the notice, this is mainly due to the Neisseria meningitidis serogroup Y.

As of March 25, a total of 143 cases had been reported to the CDC in 2024, marking an increase of 62 cases compared with the same time in 2023. The CDC also warns that this variant of Neisseria meningitidis serogroup Y is "disproportionately" affecting people between the ages of 30 to 60 years old, as well as Black and African Americans and people with HIV.

Meningococcal disease can have severe symptoms and even be fatal, presenting most often as meningitis—an inflammation of the fluid and membranes around the brain and spinal cord (meninges). With the concerning uptick top of mind, the CDC asks that healthcare providers maintain "a heightened suspicion for meningococcal disease," but the general public should be aware of common warning signs. Read on to learn what to pay close attention to.

RELATED: Norovirus Cases Spiking Across U.S.—These Are the Symptoms.


woman with nausea
Leszek Glasner / Shutterstock

According to the Mayo Clinic, the early warning signs of meningitis can be similar to the flu, developing over a few hours or days. One of these could be a sudden high fever.

Stiff neck

Woman with a stiff neck

Another symptom of meningitis is a stiff neck. According to Medical News Today, the neck is the "most mobile area that meninges cover." So, when they become inflamed, patients often notice this in their necks.

Cleveland Clinic notes that this may specifically involve the inability to lower your chin to your chest due to the stiffness.

RELATED: Officials Issue Alert Amid "Incredibly Contagious" Mumps Outbreak—These Are the Symptoms.

Nausea or vomiting

Woman with nausea upset stomach

Also like the flu, meningitis can cause nausea or vomiting.


man with light sensitivity
Selezneva Olga / Shutterstock

The CDC notes that meningitis can cause photophobia, or eyes being more sensitive to light.

Altered mental status

guy sitting on sofa at home using smartphone

Among the more scary symptoms of meningitis is an altered mental status, the CDC notes. According to the Cleveland Clinic, patients with meningitis may specifically experience confusion.

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There are other symptoms of a meningococcal bloodstream infection.

woman lying in bed, feeling unwell, with her hand on her head. Sickness / illness concept. Coronavirus / fever / headache concept. Home isolation.

The CDC also warns of different symptoms if patients develop a meningococcal bloodstream infection. These may also include fever, chills, and vomiting, as well as cold hands and feet, fatigue, severe aches and pains, rapid breathing, and diarrhea, the CDC's Health Advisory alert states. In the later stages of this kind of infection, patients may also develop a dark purple rash.

The CDC stresses that symptoms of meningococcal disease can be "non-specific" at first, and doctors should "be aware that patients may present without symptoms typical of meningitis." Still, because the illness can progress quickly—and become life-threatening—it's imperative to get antibiotic treatment immediately, the agency says.

As a preventive measure, the agency notes that medical professionals should ensure people are up to date on meningococcal vaccines. You can also ask your healthcare provider directly about recommended vaccines or booster doses for you and members of your household.

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Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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