There is an outbreak of meningitis in Southern California, primarily among gay and bisexual men, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
The Associated Press reported that “… nine meningococcal disease cases have been identified in men living in Los Angeles and Orange counties. One patient died as a result of the infection. Six of the cases are known to have been caused by a particular strain of meningococcal bacteria.” Four of the nine meningitis cases involved gay or bisexual men, with three of them occurring in the past six weeks.
“We are concerned that gay and bisexual men in Southern California may be at increased risk for meningococcal disease,” said Dr. Karen Smith, CDPH director. “We encourage men who partner with other men to be aware of the risk of meningococcal disease and consider getting vaccinated.”
Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitis and can cause meningitis and bloodstream infections, known as sepsis. Although rare, meningococcal disease is serious and potentially fatal unless identified and treated soon after infection
Brett Shadd, a gay lawyer and real estate in West Hollywood, died of meningitis at the age of 33 in 2013, sparking alarm among the gay community. AIDS Healthcare Foundation and other organizations offered free vaccinations to those at risk of contacting the disease. West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran, who led the effort to spread awareness of the disease in the gay community in 2013, posted a warning about it on his Facebook page today.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), which criticized the L.A. Department of Public Health for what it said was a slow response to meningitis risk after Shadd’s death, demanded it quickly increase the availability of vaccines.
“We are calling on LA County Health officials to immediately roll out an aggressive, high profile and targeted public information campaign about this latest meningitis outbreak,” said Michael Weinstein, president of AHF. “We urge Los Angeles County and other affected health jurisdictions to quickly ramp up their supplies of vaccines and partner with the community in vaccination efforts as well as educating the community. We hope to partner with the county in vaccine and prevention efforts and are working to make vaccines available at our Southern California area AHF Wellness Centers next week.”
A statement from the CPDH said “several outbreaks and clusters of serogroup C meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men have been reported in New York City, Los Angeles County and Chicago since 2014. Similar outbreaks have also been reported recently in Europe. Many of the men affected by these outbreaks were infected with HIV.”
“HIV-infected people are at increased risk of contracting meningococcal disease. Because of this increased risk, the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended this week that all HIV-infected persons aged two months and older be routinely vaccinated with the meningococcal vaccine that protects against serogroups A, C, W and Y disease (MenACWY).
“Meningococcal bacteria are transmitted through close personal contact and can be spread from person to person by small droplets of respiratory secretions from the nose and throat. Gay and bisexual men may be at increased risk of meningococcal disease if they have close or intimate contact with multiple partners, regularly visit crowded venues such as bars and parties, or smoke cigarettes, marijuana or illegal drugs. State health officials urge all HIV-infected persons and gay and bisexual men who may be at increased risk for meningococcal disease to consider receiving MenACWY.
“All HIV-infected adults should receive two doses of MenACWY. Gay and bisexual men who are at increased risk for meningococcal disease and are not HIV-infected should receive one dose of MenACWY vaccine. Those who have not been tested for HIV within the last year should be offered an HIV test along with vaccination. Adults may locate meningococcal vaccines in their area by using CDC’s Adult Vaccine Finder.
Symptoms of meningococcal disease may include fever, vomiting, severe headache, stiff neck, confusion, rash and generalized muscle pains. The time from exposure to the start of symptoms is typically just a few days. People who experience these symptoms should seek medical care immediately.