The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health today urged that gay and bisexual men be vaccinated for meningitis. Eight cases of meningitis have been reported in the Los Angeles area since the start of the year and there have been three deaths.
All men who have sex with men, whether or not they identify as gay or bisexual and “regardless of HIV status, who regularly have close or intimate contact with multiple partners, or who seek partners through the use of digital applications, particularly those who share cigarettes, marijuana or use illegal drugs, should visit their health provider to be vaccinated against invasive meningococcal disease,” department director Dr. Jonathan Fielding said in a statement. The county will provide free vaccinations for patients without health insurance, starting on April 3, he added. Those interested can call 211 or visit the department’s website to get a listing of provider clinics.
Investigators have found “commonalities” in four of the latest cases. This outbreak cluster apparently includes the three fatalities.
The department said that in contrast to investigations of illnesses in 2012 and 2013, “commonalities were found” among the four cases in men who have sex with men this year: Three lived or socialized in the West Hollywood and North Hollywood areas and three were 27-28 years of age. The fourth meningitis patient was 50 years old, the department reported. Invasive meningococcal disease stems from a rare bacterial infection that can spread to the blood, brain or spinal cord and can affect the entire body — sometimes causing death. It is spread by close exposure to sneezing or coughing or direct contact with saliva or nose mucus — though it’s less contagious than influenza, the health department said.
From the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center:
“Invasive meningococcal disease is very serious and potentially deadly,” says Center Medical Director Dr. Robert Bolan. “We’re concerned there have been four reported cases among gay and bisexual men in just the first three months of this year and that the county is reporting commonalities among some of the cases. Though it’s important to note that IMD is not spread by casual contact, such as being in the same room with someone who may be infected, I encourage gay and bisexual men—regardless of their HIV status, but especially those who are HIV-positive—to get vaccinated. It’s possible that people who are HIV-positive, and gay men in general, may be at greater risk of infection.”
Three of the eight reported Los Angeles area cases have occurred in HIV+ men. Reports do not say whether any of those three cases are among the fatalities.
RELATED: Beginning in the fall of 2012, New York City experienced an outbreak of meningitis that included cases among gay and bisexual men. At least seven deaths resulted. City and state departments of public health reacted aggressively, launching vaccination campaigns that were praised by local activists. Those vaccination campaigns were declared a success in August 2013 following six months of no new reported cases, but not before the likes of World Net Daily, David Barton, and Scott Lively had declared that God was using meningitis to punish gay men.