LOS ANGELES–Three years after a deadly strain of bacterial meningitis killed two Los Angeles gay men and a San Diego student, Los Angeles County Department of Public Healthofficials issued a Department of Public Health (DPH) ‘Health Alert’ warning that a new outbreak of invasive meningococcal disease is once again hitting gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM) particularly hard. According to the Associated Press, “… nine meningococcal disease cases have been identified in men living in Los Angeles and Orange counties. One patient died as a result of the infection. Six of the cases are known to have been caused by a particular strain of meningococcal bacteria.” Four of these nine meningitis cases were found in MSM, and according to the L.A. County Health alert, three of the four MSM cases occurred within the past 6 weeks.
“We are calling on LA County Health officials to immediately roll out an aggressive, high profile and targeted public information campaign about this latest meningitis outbreak,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AHF. “We urge Los Angeles County and other affected health jurisdictions to quickly ramp up their supplies of vaccines and partner with the community in vaccination efforts as well as educating the community. We hope to partner with the County in vaccine and prevention efforts and are working to make vaccines available at our Southern California area AHF Wellness Centers next week.”
In 2013, while Los Angeles County health officials quibbled with community health providers and advocates about labeling the deadly meningitis cases a ‘cluster’ or ‘outbreak’ to describe cases that killed three MSM in Southern California and seven MSM in New York, AHF mounted an aggressive free meningitis vaccination campaign in Los Angeles. In the span of one week (April 15-22, 2013), AHF provided 3,357 free meningitis vaccines to the community. At that same time in New York, “…the city’s health department issued a warning … urging all men who regularly have intimate contact with other men to be vaccinated for meningitis,” according to ‘The New York Times.’ However, the Times’ article also noted that, “Officials here [in Los Angeles] have thus far been reluctant to do the same.”
“AHF was first on the vaccination front in 2013 and we are glad to see that Los Angeles County has stepped up so quickly with a ‘Health Alert’; however, County health officials need to step up now and focus even greater attention on meningitis in these populations,” added AHF’s Weinstein. “Gay men are extremely over-represented in these meningitis case numbers in Los Angeles. The CDC and the NIH, in conjunction with local health departments, should really be studying the issue far more intensively.”
HEALTH NOTE: The meningitis vaccine provides protection for five (5) years, so any individual who may have been vaccinated during the cases or outbreaks reported in 2013 or 2014 does NOT need to get a booster shot or be re-vaccinated now.