Following national increase in N. meningitidis cases, Chicago Department of Public Health monitoring local uptick

May 14, 2024

Chicagoans are advised to be vigilant for symptoms and ensure vaccination status

CDPH Public Information Office:

CHICAGO - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting a nationwide increase in meningococcal disease, a rare but serious bacterial infection associated with infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream. These illnesses can be severe and even deadly. CDC issued a health advisory in response to the recent uptick in cases.

Similar to national trends, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) is also monitoring an increase in cases of invasive meningococcal disease since January 2023. Compared to 1-3 cases per year in 2017-2022, there were seven cases in 2023 and eight cases in 2024 to date. All of these individuals have had bloodstream infections, and four have died.

“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.”

Nationally, since 2023, cases of invasive meningococcal disease have disproportionately occurred in people ages 30—60 years (60%) and in Black or African American people (53%). Most of these infections presented as bloodstream infections rather than meningitis. Among the 15 Chicago cases from 2023-2024, 9 people were ages 30—60 and 8 were Black, non-Hispanic.

Meningococcal disease spreads through respiratory and throat secretions such as saliva. The bacteria that causes meningococcal disease is not as contagious as the flu or COVID, and usually requires close contact like kissing to spread.

CDPH recommends seeking medical attention immediately if you or your child develops symptoms of meningococcal disease:

  • 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.

Parents and healthcare providers should make sure that adolescents and teens receive the required meningococcal vaccine on schedule at 11—12 years of age, with a booster dose at 16 years of age. People are advised to talk to their healthcare provider about meningococcal vaccines that may be recommended for them and their household or family members, including any recommended booster doses.

The CDPH Healthy Chicago podcast covered meningitis in a recent episode, which can be seen and heard here.