THURSDAY, Oct. 11 (HealthDay News) -- As a nationwide outbreak
of steroid-linked meningitis grabs headlines, health officials in
New York City say a separate, unrelated outbreak is hitting gay and
The city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) say
12 new cases of bacterial meningitis have arisen among gay and
bisexual men since August of 2010, with the biggest spike in cases
coming over the past five weeks. One of those infected has died,
while another patient remains in critical care. Eight of the 12
cases occurred among men infected with HIV.
As a result, last week the DOHMH issued an advisory recommending
that all HIV-positive male residents who've recently engaged in
casual "intimate contact" with other men get vaccinated against the
The new recommendations specifically address all HIV-infected
men "who have had intimate contact with another man met through a
website, digital application ('app'), or at a bar or party since
Sept. 1, 2012."
City officials note that people who are HIV-positive generally
face a greater risk for acquiring invasive meningococcal disease, a
potentially deadly illness that is estimated to take the life of
approximately one in five infected patients.
They stressed that while everyone is potentially at risk for
meningitis infection, the risk is much lower among non-HIV-positive
individuals, so the general population "does not require
vaccination" due to this outbreak.
Officials also stressed that the outbreak among New York City's
gay males is entirely separate from the national fungus-linked
meningitis outbreak linked to tainted steroid injections that has
infected 137 people and killed 12 across 10 different states this
That outbreak is linked to tainted medicine while the NYC
outbreak is tied to person-to-person transmission, the health
Bacterial meningitis is not an airborne disease, and cannot be
spread through inhalation. However, it can be transmitted via
prolonged intimacy, such as kissing and sex, and/or through the
sharing of objects, such as eating and drinking utensils or
A number of vaccines are effective (although not foolproof) at
offering protection against the illness within a week to 10 days
following inoculation. And for the next couple of months, the city
is making vaccines available through a number of citywide health
facilities, where normal insurance co-pay requirements will be
City officials cautioned, however, that HIV-positive men should
first seek the advice of their health care provider before going in
for an inoculation, in order to make sure that the vaccine is
appropriate for them.
They further added that the vaccine does not cure or treat the
disease, and urge anyone who has already developed telltale
symptoms of infection to seek medical attention immediately.
Dr. Amanda Cohn, a medical epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta, said that the
outbreak seems so far isolated to New York City.
No similar outbreaks have been reported this year from other
cities, and "the number of cases of meningitis caused by this
bacteria is at an all-time low in the United States," Cohn said.
"There are usually two to three outbreaks or clusters of
meningococcal meningitis in the United States in a year, but most
of the cases are sporadic and not related to other cases."
"(So) we consider what's happening in NYC of concern," Cohn added, "but not unduly alarming."
According to Cohn, "meningitis is a serious infection that
causes inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. In
some cases this inflammation can cause death, or serious
complications such as long-term neurologic problems. Persons who
are experiencing sudden onset of symptoms such as high fever,
headache and neck stiffness need to be seen by a medical provider
The DOHMH notes that such symptoms typically manifest two to 10
days following exposure to the bacterium.
For more on the NYC outbreak, head to the city's
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
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