April 25, 2009

Meningitis outbreak reported in Miami

Health officials in Miami announced an apparent outbreak of meningitis this week that has killed four people and sickened 12.

Dr. Vincent Conte of the Miami-Dade Health Department said that the victims were infected with an unusual and unusually virulent strain of the disease, W135. The Miami Herald reported. Only about 3 percent of meningitis cases around the world are caused by that strain of virus.

The pattern of the outbreak is puzzling, Conte said, because those infected with the disease are scattered around Dade County. He said that the cluster is the first in the United States involving the W135 strain.

Conte said that epidemiologists are trying to track the contacts of patient zero, who became sick in December and has since recovered.

Meningitis is an infection of the fluid in the spinal cord and around the brain. The virus spreads through close person-to-person contact, including kissing, and through handling things that have been touched by an infected person.