Tijuana’s 18 cases of meningitis, including six deaths, are about three times more than the city typically sees in a year. In San Diego County, where an average of nine cases per year are reported, there have been two cases and one death in recent weeks.
A 39-year-old man died earlier this week, while a one-year-old child was hospitalized late last month and is recovering.
More meningitis cases in Southern California from last November and December may also be connected to the Tijuana outbreak, said Steve Waterman, MD, MPH, lead for the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) U.S. Mexico Unit.
"So right now there’s actually 13 cases that are considered possibly part of this cluster in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Bernadino Counties," said Waterman.
Waterman said the Southern California strains match, but data results from Mexico have not yet been confirmed.
"There are a fair number of strains," he said. "This is a new strain that hasn’t typically been seen in Southern California."
Local, state and federal health officials were actively tracking the situation on both sides of the border and providing antibiotic treatment to contacts of cases.
Health officials on Thursday urged 42 school districts in San Diego County to educate staff and parents about the symptoms of meningitis. The warning came as many families are planning spring break trips to Mexico.
There are no travel restrictions across the border, but Waterman urged vigilance.
"It isn’t at the level where the Mexicans are recommending special vaccination campaigns, nor would we in the United States, but it’s still concerning," said Waterman.
He said the disease is still active. The last case in Tijuana occurred last Thursday and the person died over the weekend.
The bacterial disease is not highly contagious and only spreads from close contacts, like sharing a cup or kissing. Symptoms of meningitis include fever, intense headache, a stiff neck and a rash. A meningitis vaccination is recommended for youth ages 11 to 18.
Waterman said a vaccine campaign would only be implemented if there was a significant increase in cases.
"If any clusters in any institutions occur, which sometimes is known to happen with this disease, like in a school or a hospital or a prison, or if the number of cases goes up dramatically –- we’re talking 50 plus in Tijuana, then there might be more discussion of a community wide vaccination program," said Waterman.
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