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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 4 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 14
LA meningitis outbreak - Health officials urge vaccination
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LA meningitis outbreak - Health officials urge vaccination

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Department of Health issued an announcement April 3, urging Gay and Bisexual men to be vaccinated for meningitis. Eight cases of the disease have been reported so far this year, and three patients have died.

Health officials said they have found 'commonalities' in four of the latest cases. This outbreak cluster reportedly includes the three fatalities. The Department said that the finding of 'commonalities' contrasted with previous meningitis outbreaks in 2012 and 2013.

Three of the patients 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 Health Department reported.

Three of the eight reported Los Angeles area cases have occurred in HIV-positive men. Reports do not say whether any of those three cases are among the fatalities.

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, although it is less contagious than influenza, the Health Department said.

Symptoms commonly include severe headache, stiffness or rigidity of the neck, high fever, mental confusion, sensitivity to light, and sometimes a distinctive skin rash. There may be inflammation of the brain itself or its blood vessels, and the infection may lead to sepsis.

Bacterial meningitis progresses very rapidly, with patients becoming symptomatic sometimes within two to four days of infection, or seven to ten days at most.

While the disease can be fatal, meningitis patients respond very well to antibiotics, especially if they are administered soon after infection, and there are standard vaccines that can prevent the disease.

ALA County Health Department Director Dr Jonathan Fielding urged that 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.'

'Invasive meningococcal disease is very serious and potentially deadly,' says LA Gay and Lesbian 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.'

LA County officials said they would provide free vaccinations to individuals without medical insurance. A similar mass vaccination campaign seemed to be successful in bringing New York City's 2012 outbreak to a close.

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