A push is on to get vaccinated, but not for COVID. A new health crisis is spreading through South Florida’s gay and bisexual community: Meningococcal disease.

Twenty-one cases have been diagnosed in Florida this year. While that doesn’t sound like many, there were only 27 cases in 2021 and 17 in 2020. Symptoms often feel like the onset of flu and include fever, headache, a stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, a deep, purple rash, and mental confusion. There have been anecdotal reports of people mistaking it for COVID and not going to a doctor until it’s too late.

Health officials are encouraging men who have sex with men to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The CDC says the meningococcal disease is a bacteria that is spread through respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit) during close contact, such as coughing or kissing. People who live together are especially susceptible to giving it to one another.

It can be treated with antibiotics, and it’s important to see a doctor as soon as symptoms set in. The disease can quickly spread to the bloodstream and get much worse, very quickly. Even with early treatment, there is still a chance of long-term problems or even death.

The best path is to stop it before you get it.

The Centers for Disease Control urging gay, bi and MSM and people living with HIV to get vaccinated. Most people will need only one dose, but HIV-positive patients will get two doses. If you got a vaccine more than five years ago, your doctor may recommend a booster.

The original source of the outbreak isn’t known. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health, Jeremy Redfern, told the Miami Herald, “This is just something that happens periodically, and we just get an outbreak every now and then and it’s usually among the men-who-have-sex-with-men community and sometimes it’s just random.”

Just two months ago SFGN reported on the death of a local server, Nick Coleman, who died from bacterial meningitis. He was 32. It’s unclear how he got the illness, or if his death was included in the numbers mentioned above.

“It was about two days of symptoms that he thought was COVID,” his friend, Gary Hill, said at the time.

For those wanting the vaccine, CVS offers them and is taking appointments.