Three Deaths from Meningitis Among Young Gay Men with WeHo Ties, Health Department Reveals

Thu, Apr 03, 2014   By Staff   
meningitis bacteria

Meningitis bacteria

Three of the four gay men with ties to West Hollywood and North Hollywood who have contracted meningitis over the last three months have died.

The deaths were disclosed to WEHOville by a spokesman for the L.A. County Department of Public Health, which failed to mention them in a press release Wednesday urging gay men to get vaccinated against meningitis infection.

The spokesman could not explain why the Public Health Department didn’t disclose the deaths, saying only that the purpose of the press release was to point out the risks of infection among men who have sex with men and men who live in or socialize in West Hollywood and North Hollywood. The young men who died were 27 and 28 years old. The spokesman declined to release other information about them.

The spokesman did say, however, that there was no evident connection between the meningitis strains in each of the three young men, suggesting that they did not infect one another.

The Public Health Department recommended Tuesday that gay men get vaccinated against meningitis, citing eight cases of infection so far this year, four of them involving gay men who live in or have socialized in West Hollywood or North Hollywood.

The vaccinations are intended to prevent contracting invasive meningococcal disease, which can cause either meningitis or sepsis, a blood infection. Both diseases have a high mortality rate.

Common symptoms of meningitis are headache, fever and a stiff neck and sometimes confusion and vomiting. Sepsis symptoms include a high fever, hot and flushed skin, an elevated heart rate, hyperventilation and low blood pressure. The bacteria can be spread by very close exposure to sneezing and coughing or direct contact with saliva or nose mucus. Symptoms usually occur within five days of exposure, but may present themselves as many as ten days after exposure.

Public Health will offer free meningococcal vaccines to LA County residents without health insurance, beginning Thursday. For a listing of clinics, call the LA County Information Line at 2-1-1 from any cell phone or land line in the county or visit http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/. Although meningococcal disease can be treated with appropriate antibiotics if detected early, it is often not diagnosed until it has become life-threatening.  Other resources for vaccinations are listed on WEHOville.

The death from meningitis in April last year of Brett Shaad, a young gay man who lived in West Hollywood, sparked somewhat of a panic in WeHo. City Councilmember John Duran speculated that Shaad’s death might have been linked to an outbreak of meningitis among gay men in New York City, where 22 gay men were infected and seven died between 2010 and February 2013. New York’s deputy health commissioner, Dr. Jay Varma, described the outbreak as “absolutely terrifying.” In Los Angeles, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation offered free vaccinations against the infection.

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