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NYC Health Officials Warn of Meningitis Ahead of Gay Pride

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Tuesday Jun 18, 2013
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Health officials are urging people who plan on traveling to New York City for Gay Pride events over the June 28-30 weekend to get a meningitis vaccination. The advisory comes after a recent outbreak of the disease made national headlines this year.

Doctors from Weill Cornell Medical College and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are warning individuals about a deadly bacterial meningitis outbreak that impacts men who have sex with other men, according to a Monday report in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

As NBC News points out, there have been 22 meningitis cases involving gay men or men who have sex with men reported to New York health officials since August 2010. Seven of the men died - a rate that is significantly higher than the general population where meningitis kills between 10 and 14 percent of patients, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

Twelve of the 22 men were HIV positive and five died because of meningitis.
According to the report, last year "meningococcal incidence among NYC [men who have sex with men] was 50-fold greater than the age-adjusted rate for the general population."

Other gay communities around the country have been impacted by a meningitis outbreak, including Los Angeles and Chicago. The disease has hit even Toronto.

"Many people carry the bacteria that causes meningitis, Neisseria meningitides, in their noses and throats. Among children, the rate of colonization with the bacteria can be as high as 37 percent," NBC News writes. "But most don’t suffer any consequences. The current rate of invasive disease is tiny, between 0.3 and 0.6 cases for every 100,000 people, according to the Annals report."

The CDC recommends that anyone over the age of 11 be vaccinated for meningitis.

"It would be reasonable for people traveling to New York City and participating in the events to talk to their doctors about whether or not they might benefit from vaccinations," Dr. Jay Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control in the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene told NBC News.

This isn’t the first time New York health officials have issued a warning to gay men regarding the disease.

In March, the city’s Department of Health urged bisexual men, gay men and men who have relations with other men to get their vaccine.

"Once you get infected the time from being infected to being horribly sick and possibly dying is very short," Varma said at the time. "We’ve had several cases who have been actually found dead in their apartment before they’d even gone to see a medical provider. So that is, to us, absolutely terrifying."

Before that in October 2012, health officials encouraged HIV-positive men in New York City who have had an "intimate contact" with men they met on the Internet via dating apps, or who they met at a bar or party to get vaccinated for meningitis. Health authorities, however, stressed that the outbreak was not "the new AIDS."

In April, L.A. health officials handed out free meningitis vaccinations after three Southern California men died from the disease. Two, were openly gay.

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