Local man dies of meningococcal disease; Officials check if possible link to Tijuana outbreak

17 cases in Tijuana since Jan. 4

SAN DIEGO - A 39-year-old man died of meningococcal disease this week and health officials are checking to see if the case might be linked to an outbreak of the illness in Tijuana, county officials announced today.

The unidentified man is the second man to die of the disease in the region in four months. A Chula Vista man who attended San Diego State University died in December, according to the county Health and Human Services Agency.

The HHSA said 17 people have caught the bacterial disease in Tijuana since Jan. 4 and five of them have died.

The man who died lives in San Diego County and had not traveled to Tijuana, according to the agency.

"While meningococcal disease can be serious and deadly, it is not spread through casual contact," county public health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said. "The risk to persons who are not in close, direct contact with an infected individual is minimal."

A handful of cases of meningococcal disease are diagnosed in San Diego County each year, according to the HHSA. A 1-year-old was hospitalized with the illness last month, but survived.

The agency is not recommending any changes to health guidelines for those who travel to Tijuana.  

Anyone who experiences symptoms of the disease -- fever, intense headache, lethargy, stiff neck, and a rash that does not blanch under pressure -- should seek prompt medical care.

The bacteria is spread through close contact, such as sharing drinking glasses, eating utensils, or water bottles, according to the HHSA. It also can be spread by kissing, smoking and living in close quarters.

The time between exposure to the disease and the onset of symptoms can be between two to 10 days.

County health officials said people who had close contact with the patient should receive antibiotics to prevent any possible infection, but preventive antibiotics are not recommended for those who were not in close contact.

They should, however, be aware of possible symptoms and make sure they have received the recommended vaccination against the disease, HHSA officials said.

A vaccine to prevent certain strains of meningococcal disease is routinely recommended for children and adolescents 11 to 18 years of age.

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