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Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Olusimbo Ike speaks as city officials hold a press conference about the winter storm on Jan. 12, 2024. Credit: Colin Boyle/Ecoglobalsociety

CHICAGO — The Chicago Department of Public Health is warning of an uptick in cases of meningococcal disease.

There have been eight cases in Chicago this year of the “rare but serious” bacterial infection, according to a health department news release. In all cases, those infected had bloodstream infections — and four have died, according to the department.

Chicago had seven cases of meningococcal disease in 2023 and one to three cases per year between 2017-2022, with the recent rise in line with national trends, according to the health department.

Meningococcal disease infects the lining of the brain, spinal cord and bloodstream, leading to severe illness and sometimes death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a health advisory.

Health Commissioner Dr. Olusimbo “Simbo” Ige said in a statement that staying up to date on vaccinations is the best protection against meningococcal disease.

“We are monitoring this situation very closely and so far have identified no common exposure among Chicago cases,” Ige said in the news release. “While cases remain very rare, we want people to be aware because the outcomes can be so severe.”

The disease disproportionately impacts people ages 30-60 and Black people, according to the health department. Most cases first present as bloodstream infections and spread through respiratory means started by close contact.

Meningococcal disease is not nearly as contagious as the flu or COVID.

Symptoms include flu-like symptoms that “worsen rapidly,” fever and chills, fatigue, cold hands and feet, severe aches and pains, rapid breathing and, in later stages, a dark purple rash, according to the health department.

Teens should receive the meningococcal vaccine at 11 or 12 years old, with a booster dose at 16, according to the health department. Others should talk to their doctor about getting the vaccine if they haven't already.

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