Two 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 Health officials acknowledge the threat gay men may face from invasive meningococcal disease. County health officials are currently surveying area medical providers asking if they knew the Department of Public Health recommended meningococcal vaccination for “…all HIV infected men who have sex with men (MSM) and MSM with certain risk factors.”
This news comes after a cluster of eight additional meningitis cases was found among Los Angeles area gay men and MSM in 2014 and on the heels of Los Angeles County’s first confirmed invasive meningococcal disease case in an MSM in 2015; however, the latest individual’s illness was caused by meningitis serogroup B, which is not covered by the preventive vaccine.
LOS ANGELES (February 17, 2015) Two 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 Health officials finally acknowledge the threat gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM) face from invasive meningococcal disease. Los Angeles County health officials are now surveying area medical providers asking if they know the County Department of Public Health recommends meningococcal vaccination for “…all HIV infected men who have sex with men (MSM) and MSM with certain risk factors,” a recommendation it first made in April 2014. The other risk factors for vaccine recommendation include, “…MSM, regardless of HIV status, who have multiple partners or who regularly have close or intimate contact with other men met either through an online website, digital application (‘app’), or at a bar or party.”
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.”
“While L.A. County health officials were debating the semantics of what to actually call the group of meningitis infections that was killing some gay men and MSM in Los Angeles in 2013, AHF was providing over 3,300 free meningitis vaccinations to potentially at-risk individuals in the community,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “AHF was first on the vaccination front in 2013 and we are now glad to see that Los Angeles County has come around; however, County health officials need to step up and focus even greater attention on meningitis in these populations. The issue with meningitis and the gay and MSM communities is that there are several strains of meningitis, and men at risk should be given the opportunity to get free vaccines from the County’s Department of Public Health. Gay men are extremely over-represented in these meningitis case numbers in Los Angeles and those of other cities. The CDC and the NIH, in conjunction with local health departments, should really be studying the issue far more intensively.”
A cluster of eight cases of invasive meningococcal disease meningitis followed in Los Angeles in 2014, four of which were found in men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM). It wasn’t until that time—April 2014—that County health officials first issued a recommendation for meningococcal vaccination for all HIV infected MSM and other MSM with certain risk factors.
Since January 2015, the L.A. County Department of Public Health has been surveying Los Angeles medical providers to ask, “Are you aware of the meningococcal vaccination recommendation made for the prevention of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) by the Los Angeles County (LAC) Department of Public Health in April 2014…?”
Distribution of the County’s meningitis survey also comes on the heels of Los Angeles County’s first confirmed invasive meningococcal disease case found in a man who has sex with men (MSM) in 2015. According to an official County email update sent to medical providers and public health and community officials on February 4th, “The adult male is a resident of the Hollywood-Wilshire Health District, who denied smoking and recreational drug use … His illness was caused by serogroup B, which is not covered by the vaccine. The patient had not received prior meningococcal vaccination.”
AHF continues to offer free meningitis vaccines in greater Los Angeles through its AHF Wellness Centers. For locations, visit www.freestdcheck.org/locations
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.
During the 2013 and 2014 cases of meningitis reported among gay and MSM in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health offered free meningococcal vaccines to County residents without health insurance. The County continues to offer free and/or low cost ($15 maximum) meningitis vaccines today. For further County information, call the LA County Information Line at 2-1-1 from any cell phone or land line in the county or visit http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/ .