TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Florida Departments of Health in West Central Florida are responding to an outbreak of meningococcal disease and said getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself.

It is a serious disease caused by bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis, according to the FDOH. The bacteria is not as contagious as germs that cause the common cold or flu – people catch meningococcal disease from close contact over a period of time, kissing or sharing drinks.

Symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, confusion and rash.

The number of cases identified so far this year has surpassed the five-year average of meningococcal disease cases in Florida, health official said.

FDOH epidemiologists are investigating each case as well as contacting people with potential or direct exposure to known cases to provide them with information and treatment options.

According to the CDC, the two most common types of meningococcal infections are meningitis – which is an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord – and a bloodstream infection, both of which can become deadly.

According to a statement from the agency, the following groups should consider vaccination with a meningococcal conjugate (MenACWY) vaccine during this outbreak:

  • College and university students
  • Immunocompromised individuals
  • People living with HIV
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People in any groups listed above who received their MenACWY vaccine more than five years ago

You can find meningococcal vaccines, including the MenACWY vaccine, by contacting a health care provider, county health department or pharmacy.

Here are the numbers for departments of health in the Tampa Bay area:

  • Citrus: 352-527-0068
  • Hardee: 863-773-4161
  • Hernando: 352-540-6800
  • Highlands: 863-386-6040
  • Hillsborough: 813-307-8000
  • Manatee: 941-748-0747
  • Pasco: 727-619-0300
  • Pinellas: 727-824-6900
  • Polk: 863-519-7900
  • Sarasota: 941-861-2900