Wednesday morning, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued a public health alert advising that HIV-positive men and those at high risk should get vaccinated for meningitis. DPH reported that it had eight confirmed cases of meningitis since January 2014--four of them gay, bisexual or identifying as men who have sex with men (MSMs).
DPH did not report that of the four gay/bi/MSMs, three of them died from the disease. Two of the three who died were HIV-positive. Those deaths were confirmed in a report on L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yarolsavksy's website.
DPH reported that in the gay cluster, three men reported either a residence in or socializing around the West Hollywood and North Hollywood areas, and three were between 27-28 years of age (the fourth case was 50 years of age).
"All HIV-positive MSM and all MSM, 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," DPH Director Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding said in the alert. "At-risk MSM who don't have health insurance can obtain a free vaccination through the Department of Public Health.
The DPH alert noted that:
IMD (invasive meningococcal disease) is a sporadic and uncommon bacterial infection of the blood or the lining of the brain and spinal cord that can affect the entire body. The infection can cause brain damage, hearing loss, and even death. The bacteria can be spread by very close exposure to sneezing and coughing or direct contact with saliva or nose mucus.
Disease symptoms may include: high fever, stiff neck, altered mental status, skin rash, severe headache, low blood pressure, aversion to bright lights, and generalized muscle pains. Symptoms usually occur within 5 days of the exposure, but may present as many as 10 days after exposure. IMD progresses rapidly, so immediate diagnosis and treatment is imperative.
Meningitis can be treated with antibiotics, but the disease progresses rapidly, so if you think you have any of these symptoms, get checked out immediately.
"Invasive meningococcal disease is very serious and potentially deadly," L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center Medical Director Dr. Robert Bolan said in a press release. "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."
"We -- like the public-at-large -- are anxiously waiting for details on these latest meningitis cases found among Los Angeles area gay men," said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "AIDS Healthcare Foundation is ready to respond immediately to this heath issue, and we hope and trust that Los Angeles County will include the community as essential partners in this effort. You cannot mount an effective defense against meningitis without full community participation."
There are a number of high-profile gay events coming up where gay/bi/MSMs are expected to be in close proximity to each other. If you are going to one of these events--or think you might be at risk of infection--please get vaccinated. DPH says that even if you were previously vaccinated you should get another one anyway. DPH will provide free meningococcal vaccine to L.A. County residents without health insurance, beginning Thursday, April 3. For a listing of clinics, please call the L.A. County Information Line at 2-1-1 from any cell phone or landline in the county, or visit publichealth.lacounty.gov.
For more information regarding invasive meningococcal disease and vaccination, please go here.
The City of West Hollywood issued a press release with a number of sites where you can get vaccinated:
The City of West Hollywood recommends that men who have sex with men take action on the L.A. County Public Health recommendations by visiting a primary-care or other health provider to get a vaccination against invasive meningococcal disease (IMD). While most people with meningitis recover, it can cause serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities. Although meningococcal disease can be treated with appropriate antibiotics if detected early, prevention is the best medicine.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) offers free meningococcal vaccine at its AHF Men's Wellness Center, located at 1300 North Vermont Avenue, Suite 407, Los Angeles. For more information, please call (866) 339-2525 or visit aidshealth.org. PLEASE NOTE AHF MEN'S WELLNESS CENTER IS CLOSED ON TUESDAYS.
The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center offers meningococcal vaccine to clients and those without insurance at its McDonald/Wright Building, located at 1625 North Schrader Boulevard, Los Angeles. It also offers free meningococcal vaccine at The Spot, located at 745 North San Vicente Boulevard, West Hollywood. For more information, please call (323) 860-5855 (McDonald/Wright) or (323) 993-7440 (The Spot) or visit lagaycenter.org.
The Saban Community Clinic offers free meningococcal vaccine at its Hollywood-Wilshire Health Center, located at 5205 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles. For more information, please call (323) 769-7800 or visit sabancommunityclinic.org.
In West Hollywood, the MinuteClinic at CVS/pharmacy, located at 8491 Santa Monica Boulevard, offers meningococcal vaccine for a fee, though the MinuteClinic will accept health insurance coverage. For more information, please call (866) 389-2727 or visit MinuteClinic.com.