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Bacterial Meningitis Deaths of Gay Men in S. Calif. Spark Concern

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Friday Apr 19, 2013
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Health officials in Los Angeles are giving out free meningitis vaccinations after the recent deaths of three Southern California men, two of them openly gay, L.A. NBC affiliate KNBC reports.

Last weekend, the Associated Press reported that Brett Shaad, 33, of West Hollywood, was declared brain dead shortly after being diagnosed. West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran, who saw Shaad just before he fell sick, said the openly gay man had been "robust and healthy."

Health officials in West Hollywood quickly warned gay men about the incident. Now, officials are taking things further after the announcement of two more similar deaths: Rjay Spoon, 30, of downtown Los Angeles, died on Dec. 16, and an unidentified 30-year-old San Diego State University student who lived in Chula Vista, Calif., (7 miles from downtown San Diego), died Dec. 10.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is offering the free vaccines in Los Angeles, had reported that Shaad had attended the White Party in Palm Springs, which was held on March 29 to April 1 -- a point later disputed and a point many believed irrelevant in any event.

Though some may think the incident is a bacterial meningitis outbreak, L.A. County Public Health Director Dr. Jonathan Fielding said in a press conference that this was no indication of an outbreak of the infection.

Spoon’s partner, Casey Hayden, described what happened to Spoon: He said he woke up and found his partner vomiting. Hayden added that doctors were stumped over Spoon’s symptoms.

"We went to the hospital and the first thing they said it was was a drug overdose," Hayden said on Tuesday. "Then they said it was extremely advanced HIV, which was not the case. He was negative." A week later, Spoon died.

During a news conference on Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said there were 13 cases of bacterial meningitis in the country this year.

Like AIDS in the Early Years?
Ever since Shaad’s death, activist Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has encouraged gay men to get the meningitis vaccine. Weinstein criticized health officials when he spoke with the Huffington Post and compared the deaths in the LGBT community to the early years of the AIDS epidemic.

"I think they’re derelict in their duties and, again, [I] question how many people have to die or get sick before they get up off the hands they’ve been sitting on," Weinstein told HuffPo on Tuesday. "They say there are 13 cases in LA County, and four of them are among gay men. That’s disproportionate."

Southern California has suffered its meningitis deaths among gay men after an outbreak in March in New York City. Officials at the New York City Department of Health also urged gay and bisexual men living or visiting the city to get a meningitis vaccine, whether they were HIV-positive or not, after a deadly strain of the virus began impacting gay men there beginning three years ago. They said four people have been sickened this year and 17 in 2012. Seven people died since 2010.

Many are warn about labeling the bicoastal meningitis outbreak a "gay disease." But many on the religious right, such as controversial anti-gay Evangelical Scott Lively, has gone in the opposite direction.

Lively, who has been an outspoken proponent of Uganda’s "kill the gay" proposed law, linked to a story on the ultra-conservative website WorldNetDaily, "Another killer disease striking homosexual", on his own website.

He added a Bible passage from the Book of Romans in the New Testament: Romans 1:27 "and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error."

When HuffPo emailed Lively, he wrote back that he was "not saying meningitis is a ’gay disease.’ I’m saying that the Bible warns that the consequences of homosexual sin are implicit in the conduct itself," wrote Lively. "And while this is true of all sin, God places special emphasis on homosexual sin as an exemplar."

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