The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued an advisory Wednesday urging that men who have sex with men, particularly those with HIV, be vaccinated against invasive meningococcal disease (IMD). IMD is a rare bacterial infection of the blood, spinal cord, and/or brain lining that can be fatal. The department has identified 24 cases in the past 17 months, 7 of those among gay and bisexual men. Eight cases reported this year alone included four gay and bisexual men, three of whom had HIV infection. Three of the four have died. The county and the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center are offering free vaccination.
The meningitis outbreak panicking health officials earlier this year has been stopped they say, helped by social media and a brisk vaccination campaign, CBS New York reports:
Dr. Jay Varma, the deputy health commissioner for disease control, told WCBS 880 there has been not a single new case since February, around the the advisory was issued. “We’re very pleased that it appears the outbreak has been stopped. It’s the longest period we’ve gone without a case since the beginning of 2011,” he said.
It was an unprecedented education campaign by the city. In addition to the traditional outreach to the news media, the health department targeted the gay population directly through advertisements on blogs, websites, and mobile apps gay men use to find dates and hookups. “We have learned a lot about the impact we can have using other ways of getting messages out,” Varma said, noting the department’s close alliance with gay advocacy organizations which helped guide the campaign and spread the word.
It is still important for men who meet men online or at bars or parties to get the vaccine, they advise.
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The strains of meningitis affecting gay men in NYC and L.A. are not connected, NBC News reports:
After four cases of meningococcal disease among gay men were reported in Los Angeles county in recent months, there were concerns that the New York City outbreak had spread, but public health officials in Los Angeles and New York say the strains are not connected.
The New York City outbreak has been linked to parties, online websites or apps that men used to find other men for "close or intimate sexual contact," according to health officials. But for more than half of the men sickened by meningitis, there was no evidence that the men had used any of these means to encounter other men, according to public health officials.
Vaccinations are still recommended:
[Dr. Jay] Varma is concerned the outbreak is getting worse. There were a total of thirteen known cases of bacterial meningitis among men last year (triple the total in 2011). But already in the first three months of 2013, four men have been hit, not including Shaad and others in Los Angeles.
“Normally people think of an outbreak as a lot of people getting sick at one point in time – but here the number of cases is much higher than we normally expect,” said Varma.
The rate of meningitis in gay men in New York City has spiked to 60 times higher than their straight counterparts.