Reporting Paul Murnane
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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The New York City Health Department released a troubling report on Thursday. Six cases of meningitis have been reported in just the last month.
It’s not an outbreak insists Dr. Don Weiss, but an unexplained increase in the number of meningococcal cases in the city sure has gotten the attention of health officials.
Meningitis — an inflammation of the protective membranes of the brain — is just one of the forms that meningococcal disease can take.
“In the past four weeks we’ve seen six cases. We average four over that period. Last year we had two,” Weiss told CBS 2’s John Metaxas.
More ominously, out of those six cases that were spread over four out of the city’s five boroughs three people have died, and the city is now asking doctors to be on the look out for the disease. The three who died included two Manhattan women, ages 22 and 28, and a 55-year-old Staten Island woman.
“The earlier we make a diagnosis, the better the outcome for the patient,” Weiss said.
City health officials alerted doctors this week of the findings from a Dec. 20 to Jan. 17 survey. Zoe Tobin, a spokeswoman for the health department, said the average for the same period over the last 10 years amounts to four cases.
A summary of the findings said: “Meningococcal disease is typically a disease of winter and spring … and though the current incidence is more than has been seen in comparable time periods in previous years, it is not entirely unusual.”
What Michael La Forgia said he remembers most about his frightening bout with meningococcal disease six years ago is how quickly it progressed.
“I woke up with flu symptoms, chills, fever, muscle aches,” he said. “I went into septic shock, multiple organ failure.”
Doctors told his wife he would not survive the night.
In fact, up to a quarter of those stricken with meningococcal disease die from it. That’s why the health department has reacted so quickly to this latest spike.
You won’t likely catch meningococcal disease walking in the street. It’s spread through droplets from the nose or mouth, and requires close contact.
“Coughing, sneezing, sharing water bottles, kissing,” La Forgia said.
La Forgia, who managed to survive despite losing one leg and his toes on the other, said people, especially teenagers and college students living in dorms, need to take precautions.
“There is a vaccine that is safe and does not include the bacteria,” La Forgia said.
The City said none of the six cases are related to each other, and they come from different strains. Still the health department is recommending children between 2 and 18 be vaccinated.
(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)