In a letter co-signed by several HIV/AIDS service and advocacy organizations, the Los Angeles LGBT Center has called on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to determine why gay and bisexual men seem to be at an elevated risk for meningitis.
The letter, of which Center medical director Dr. Robert Bolan is the lead author/signatory, follows last week’s news of the New York City Health Department investigating three recent cases of meningitis in HIV-positive gay men.
In a press release about the letter, the Center notes that both New York and Chicago have had meningitis outbreaks among gay and bisexual men within the past 10 years (during which time the overall instances of meningitis in the U.S. declined to historic lows).
In late 2013 and early 2014, there were 33 meningitis cases in the L.A. area. Twelve of those infected were gay or bisexual men, and five of them (including three with ties to WeHo or North Hollywood) died.
Those instances did not constitute an outbreak by CDC criteria, the Center’s letter notes, but “it suggests a very concerning trend” with gay and bisexual men affected in numbers “16-fold greater” than would be affected based on the percentage of L.A.’s population they represent.
“We’ve got to learn why gay and bisexual men seem to be at greater risk of [meningitis], what correlation there may be to someone’s HIV status and what should be done about it, including potential updates to the CDC’s vaccine recommendations,” Bolan said in the press release. “I’m pleased that the CDC has responded quickly to our letter and has contacted me to discuss next steps.”
In May, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, criticized recently for its handling of the meningitis cases among gay and bisexual men, launched a campaign called “Stop Before You Swap” (as in, swap saliva) to educate the community about how the disease is transmitted.
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.