A deadly meningitis outbreak in Los Angeles has claimed the lives of 3 men in the gay community, the LA Times reports. The LA County health department announced earlier this week that eight cases of invasive meningococcal disease have been diagnosed in the county so far this year
Officials said 4 of the cases were men who have sex with men. 3 of them died. The county will provide free vaccinations to those without health insurance.
A similar meningitis outbreak spread rapidly among promiscuous men who practice unsafe sex with men in NY in 2013. Meningitis is spread through coughing and sneezing and intimate contact in close quarters, such as in gay bath houses and gay bars. Invasive meningococcal disease is caused by a virus that attacks the linings of the skull, spinal cord and brain.
Signs and symptoms include high fever, intense headaches, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, stiff neck, muscle rigidity, and joint aches. Activities associated with high risk for invasive meningococcal disease include smoking, close contact with an infected person such as kissing or sharing beverages or cigarettes, and living in group settings for prolonged periods.
The incubation period is short. Symptoms usually appear within 5 days of exposure. According to Robert Bolan, medical director at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, the infection rate is higher among gay men who practice unsafe sex and especially higher among those gays who are HIV positive.
“I think the important thing to understand is this is not an epidemic,” Bolan said. “But there’s a pretty strong signal that men who have sex with men, at least those who are HIV positive, are at increased risk for invasive meningococcal disease.”
Bolan said three of the cases involved gay men who were HIV positive.