TUESDAY, April 23 (HealthDay News) -- A series of bacterial
meningitis cases in Southern California and New York City,
resulting in the deaths of several gay men, have set the gay
community on edge. However, preliminary tests suggest the cases on
each coast aren't connected.
Health activists became concerned in Los Angeles after a
33-year-old gay attorney from West Hollywood suddenly became ill
from meningitis and died on April 13. The AIDS Healthcare
Foundation, which advocates for health for gay men, initially
criticized local health officials for not pushing for vaccinations.
However, "we don't think it's part of an outbreak or due to him
being a gay man," said Dr. Wayne Chen, the organization's acting
chief of medicine.
Still, the Los Angeles County's public health department is
offering meningitis vaccinations for free for those who are poor or
In New York City, health officials are recommending that certain
groups of gay and bisexual men, along with certain visitors to the
city, get vaccinated against meningitis.
According to Los Angeles County health officials, four cases of
meningitis in gay or bisexual men have been confirmed in the region
since December, including one 30-year-old who died of meningitis in
Los Angeles, and another man of the same age who died in the San
Diego area, both in December, according to news reports.
The officials say the four Los Angeles cases in gay and bisexual
men don't appear to be "highly related" to those elsewhere in
Southern California or in New York City.
In New York City, officials have noted more than 20 meningitis
cases since 2010 in gay or bisexual men; seven of the men died. The
city recommends vaccinations for any HIV-infected gay or bisexual
men and those who have had close or intimate contact with men they
met via websites, apps or at bars or parties. Visitors who have
been to the city since Sept. 1 and engaged in these types of
activities should get vaccinated too, city officials added.
Meningitis is transmitted through close contact with an infected
person and kills, often quickly, by causing the lining around the
brain to swell. It commonly spreads through places where people
live closely together, such as dorms and military housing.
Meningitis hasn't previously been connected to gay men in
particular, Chen said.
Many people have the bacteria that cause meningitis in their
nasal passages, but the germs often don't cause problems, said
infectious disease specialist Dr. William Schaffner, chair of the
department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical
Center. "They can carry these bacteria for long periods of time and
transmit them to other people without being aware of the
The germs can create a mild illness at first that can quickly
turn deadly, especially if the bacteria gets into the bloodstream,
"You feel kind of punky, and you maybe have a sore throat," Schaffner said. "You lose your appetite, you get drowsy. Then you can slip into a coma."
Antibiotics effectively treat bacterial meningitis, he said, but
they must be given quickly. That's why people should seek medical
care if they suffer from symptoms like stiff neck, high fever
(beyond 100.1 degrees Fahrenheit) or severe headache, he said.
Meningitis vaccines cost about $100, Chen said, and can cause
side effects that are similar to those possible in people who get
flu vaccines. The vaccines work against most strains of meningitis,
Schaffner said, and take 10 to 14 days to become effective.
For more about
meningitis, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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