BY TROY MASTERS | Two months after one gay man was diagnosed with invasive meningococcal disease, 8 new cases have emerged in Los Angeles and Orange County. One has died from the illness.
At least six cases were caused by the same strain of meningococcal bacteria, leading health officials to call this more seriously an “Outbreak” rather than a less concerning “Cluster.”
It is not clear why the health alert has only now been highlighted (it was first issued on June 24 though cases are reported as early as May), nor why it was initially an internal alert for medical staff only.
Several outbreaks and clusters of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men have been reported in New York City, Los Angeles County and Chicago since 2013, they added. The outbreak in New York in 2013 generated new concerns about an AIDS-like virus. A total of 22 men were infected there from 2010 to 2013, and seven of them died. Three people from Los Angeles and San Diego counties died of the disease in 2014, out of a total of 11 confirmed cases. Outbreaks have also recently been reported, primarily among people were HIV-positive.
People with HIV are more susceptible to meningococcal disease. The U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended this week that all HIV patients routinely receive meningococcal vaccines.
“We are concerned that gay and bisexual men in Southern California may be at increased risk for meningococcal disease,” state public health officer Dr. Karen Smith said in a statement. “We encourage men who partner with other men to be aware of the risk of meningococcal disease and consider getting vaccinated.”
Invasive meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that develops quickly and can lead to meningitis and sepsis, health officials say. If not treated quickly, meningitis can cause permanent hearing loss, brain damage or even death.
The disease, which is fatal in about 1 in 10 patients, is spread by close contact with an infected person. It can be easily transmitted by kissing, through unprotected oral or anal sex and even by close proximity to an infected person who is sneezing and coughing. Even sharing a cigarette with an infected person is a potential risk factor, though most of the bacteria that cause meningitis are not as contagious as diseases like the common cold or influenza.
The bacteria are not spread by casual contact.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health also offers free meningococcal vaccine to L.A. County residents without health insurance. For a listing of clinics, please call the L.A. County Information Line at 2-1-1 from any cell phone or landline in Los Angeles County or visit http://publichealth.lacounty.
The Los Angeles LGBT Center will offer a State-funded no-cost meningococcal vaccine for high-risk community members beginning July 5, 2016 at its McDonald/Wright Building, located at 1625 N. Schrader Boulevard, Los Angeles. Until the State-funded vaccines are available, HIV-positive patients at the Center receive the vaccine through their provider, and high risk HIV-negative patients may receive the vaccine for approximately $120 per dose, for a two dose series. For more information, please call (323) 860-5855 or visit www.lalgbtcenter.org.
Symptoms begin within days of infection and include fever, vomiting, severe headache, stiff neck, confusion, rash and generalized muscle pains.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation urged Los Angeles County health officials on Friday to develop a public information campaign, supply vaccines and work with community partners to avoid more deaths.
“We are calling on L.A. 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 are ready and willing to partner with the county in vaccine and prevention efforts and will try to make vaccines available at our Southern California area AHF Wellness Centers next week,” Weinstein added.
AHF is providing vaccines at it’s Wellness Centers.
West Adams Carl Bean House
2146 West Adams Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90018
1300 N. Vermont Ave., Suite 407
Los Angeles, CA 90027
AHF Healthcare Center Downtown
1400 S Grand Ave, ste 801
Los Angeles, CA 90015
In April of 2014 AHF and West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran pressed health agencies to sound the alarm more directly and earlier to the gay community.