WASHINGTON (AP) -- The first U.S. cases in an apparent worldwide outbreak of a rare strain of meningitis have been reported.
Government health officials said Thursday that at least three New Yorkers have come down with the type of the disease that's been linked to this year's Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
Health officials warn that anyone else who returned from the annual pilgrimage last month, or who has had close contact with a participant, should see a doctor if they suffer meningitis symptoms.
Bacterial meningitis is a serious and often deadly infection of the fluid and membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It is spread through coughing, kissing and other close contact.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned all pilgrims and their close contacts to contact a doctor or go to the nearest emergency room if they experience fever, intense headache, stiff neck or neck pain, pain when looking at bright lights, nausea or vomiting.
The World Health Organization said Thursday it had recorded 250 cases of meningitis linked to the pilgrimage, including 55 deaths. The reports began about a week ago when Britain and France diagnosed meningitis in people returned from the pilgrimage.
The CDC now says three people in New York City who either traveled to Saudi Arabia or had close contacts who did have been diagnosed with meningitis.
The CDC contacted state health departments Thursday, urging them to be alert to meningitis symptoms in recent travelers to Saudi Arabia. The specific strain involved is the rare ''W-135'' strain of the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis.
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