Two more deaths due to bacterial meningitis were reported in Southern California Tuesday, adding concern to a West Hollywood community still reeling from the death of 33-year-old resident Brett Shaad.
Rjay Spoon, a gay Downtown LA resident, died of bacterial meningitis on December 16, and a 30-year-old San Diego State University student who lived in Chula Vista died of the same disease on December 10, according to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
At a press conference held by AHF Tuesday, West Hollywood Councilmember John Duran criticized the Los Angeles County Department of Health for a lack of support and for not sharing crucial information regarding other local cases of the disease.
“How many more (cases) are there? And at what point will we get cooperation from the Department of Public Health?” said Duran.
Joining Duran at the conference was Spoon’s partner, Casey Hayden, who also said the county department was difficult to deal with during the time of his partner’s illness.
Duran received the news of Spoon’s death Tuesday from a constituent.
“With our outreach and free vaccinations, we want to promote caution and education, and prevent unnecessary concern or panic in the community,” said Dr. Otto Yang, an infectious diseases physician who is the AIDS Health Foundation (AHF) scientific director.
AHF administered around 1,000 vaccines Monday at its three locations: 8212 Santa Monica Blvd. at Havenhurst in West Hollywood, 6210 W. Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles and 1300 N. Vermont Ave. in Los Angeles. The foundation will continue to offer up to 10,000 free vaccines.
Despite the considerable publicity generated by the meningitis death of a West Hollywood resident last week, there is no indication that the number of infections is unusual. During a press conference Sunday, Dr. Maxine Liggins, the LA County Health Department area director, said that Los Angeles had about 13 cases of meningitis in 2012, and that the county was currently not having an “outbreak.”
However, according to the AHF, three cases equals an outbreak.
Liggins did not bring up Spoon’s death.
“Now the more info that slowly gets leaked to me, the closer it gets to resembling the condition in NYC,” said Duran. “Now I’m on edge that this is going to play out like New York, where we had seven deaths before everyone got vaccinated.”
Liggins did not say how many of those cases resulted in death, or how many involved gay men. Brett Shaad, the West Hollywood resident who died Saturday, was gay. His death prompted Duran to call a press conference and to raise the specter of a meningitis outbreak in West Hollywood.
Duran has been criticized by Shaad’s brother for violating the family’s privacy. He also has been criticized by some members of the gay community for linking the death to the Palm Springs White Party, a major gay event, and for suggesting that the disease could be transmitted at WeHo gay “orgies” and drug-fueled parties at WeHo gay clubs.
Appearing at the West Hollywood City Council meeting Monday night, Cristin Mondy of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said the department will not know until the end of this week whether the strain of meningitis that killed Shaad is related to the outbreak in New York City, which has resulted in 22 known cases and seven deaths among gay men since 2010.
According to the New York Department of Health and Mental Illness, the incidence of bacterial meningitis is .21 per 100,000 people. In a city of 8 million, that is 16.8 infections a year.
Mondy said the county was not recommending vaccination for the general public because of the Shaad death.
“You may hear that in New York they are providing vaccinations, but that’s because they’ve identified it as an outbreak. They have, I believe, 22 cases. So, we’re monitoring right now very closely. Based on what we find, we will make recommendations,” Mondy said.
Mondy emphasized that meningitis is spread through oral secretions, not through sex. She encouraged people to see a doctor if they feel they are at risk.
Persons at the highest risk of infection are those who live close together, such as students in dormitories or military personnel in barracks, and people with weakened immune systems.
“The chance of a large scale outbreak of this disease is relatively small, and getting infected usually requires close personal contact and exposure to body fluids of an infected person,” said Yang, the AHF scientific director.
At the time of his death, Spoon was a leasing broker at an apartment complex in Los Angeles.