Los Angeles: Gay men urged to get vaccinated against meningitis following outbreak

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Officials in Los Angeles have urged gay and bisexual men to get vaccinated against meningitis after three deaths from men aged between 27 and 28.

One man died in February and two others died in late March, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced yesterday.

They were among eight people who have contracted invasive meningococcal disease in 2014, the Public Health Department said in a statement.

Four of the eight meningitis cases this year, including the three men who died, occurred in the LGBT community that spreads from West Hollywood to the nearby North Hollywood suburb of Los Angeles, officials said.

“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,” said Jonathan Fielding, Director of Public Health.

He added: “At-risk MSM who don t have health insurance can obtain a free vaccination through the Department of Public Health.”

Brett Shaad, a 33-year-old gay lawyer, died from bacterial meningitis in April last year.

He was admitted to hospital and quickly fell into a coma.

Following his death, officials in Los Angeles reiterated warnings about the disease to all men who have sex with men in the area.

“I think the important thing to understand is this is not an epidemic,” Robert Bolan, a doctor and medical director at the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, told The Los Angeles Times. “But there’s a pretty strong signal that men who have sex with men, at least those who are HIV positive, are at increased risk for invasive meningococcal disease.”

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.

The bacteria is transmitted through secretions of the mouth, nose and throat, such as during kissing, but not casual contact or breathing the same air as an infected person.

Meningitis can cause swelling of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

The disease is rare, but people with HIV-weakened immune systems are more susceptible to infection.

Symptoms typically develop within three to seven days of exposure and can include stiff neck, fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and an altered mental state, often confusion.