Less Than a Third of L.A. Gay Men Are Vaccinated Against Meningitis

No more than 27% of gay and bisexual men in Los Angeles County have been vaccinated for invasive meningococcal disease, despite an outbreak in Southern California announced by the California Department of Public Health last summer.

The low level of vaccination was disclosed in a report released today by the California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center in collaboration with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, the L.A. LGBT Center and AIDS Project Los Angeles Health. It calls for more education about the disease and more places offering immunization throughout Southern California at places where gay and bisexual men gather.

The report is the result of brief interviews with more than 500 men who have sex with other men. That study was conducted by UCLA Luskin’s Ian Holloway, an assistant professor of social welfare, and teams researchers who visited places throughout Los Angeles, including West Hollywood, where gay men gather.

“Despite the outbreak and vaccination recommendations from the California Department of Public Health, the majority of respondents interviewed by the UCLA team were not protected against meningitis,” according to an announcement of the report.

“Holloway noted that HIV-positive people are at particular risk for developing serious health issues if infected with meningitis and are recommended to receive a two-dose primary series of meningitis vaccination. Few HIV-positive men surveyed by Holloway’s team had received two doses of the vaccination.”

“Primary care doctors who treat gay and bisexual men and HIV-positive people should talk to their patients about the ongoing outbreak and make sure they receive the full recommended dosing,” said Phil Curtis, director of government affairs at AIDS Project Los Angeles Health.

The gay community panicked in 2013 when Brett Shaad, 33, a well-known West Hollywood real estate broker and lawyer, died of meningitis. Shaad’s death prompted a number of LGBT organizations such as APLA Health, the L.A. LGBT Center and AIDS Healthcare Foundation to offer free vaccinations. A 2014 meningitis outbreak led to the deaths of three gay men in their 20s.

The germs that cause bacterial meningitis can be contagious. Coughing and kissing are the most common ways the infection spreads. Bacteria are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been.

Bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics if identified quickly. Symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, headache, nausea and a stiff neck. Those symptoms often are misdiagnosed by those who have them. Meningococcal disease can lead to rapid septic shock and death if not treated quickly. Vaccination is highly effective and can prevent the disease.