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Deadly Meningitis Cases Worry Gay Communities

Outbreaks have killed men in New York, California, but officials now think cases on each coast unrelated

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Randy Dotinga

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, April 23 (HealthDay News) -- A series of bacterial meningitis cases in Southern California and New York City, resulting in the deaths of several gay men, have set the gay community on edge. However, preliminary tests suggest the cases on each coast aren't connected.

Health activists became concerned in Los Angeles after a 33-year-old gay attorney from West Hollywood suddenly became ill from meningitis and died on April 13. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which advocates for health for gay men, initially criticized local health officials for not pushing for vaccinations. However, "we don't think it's part of an outbreak or due to him being a gay man," said Dr. Wayne Chen, the organization's acting chief of medicine.

Still, the Los Angeles County's public health department is offering meningitis vaccinations for free for those who are poor or uninsured.

In New York City, health officials are recommending that certain groups of gay and bisexual men, along with certain visitors to the city, get vaccinated against meningitis.

According to Los Angeles County health officials, four cases of meningitis in gay or bisexual men have been confirmed in the region since December, including one 30-year-old who died of meningitis in Los Angeles, and another man of the same age who died in the San Diego area, both in December, according to news reports.

The officials say the four Los Angeles cases in gay and bisexual men don't appear to be "highly related" to those elsewhere in Southern California or in New York City.

In New York City, officials have noted more than 20 meningitis cases since 2010 in gay or bisexual men; seven of the men died. The city recommends vaccinations for any HIV-infected gay or bisexual men and those who have had close or intimate contact with men they met via websites, apps or at bars or parties. Visitors who have been to the city since Sept. 1 and engaged in these types of activities should get vaccinated too, city officials added.

Meningitis is transmitted through close contact with an infected person and kills, often quickly, by causing the lining around the brain to swell. It commonly spreads through places where people live closely together, such as dorms and military housing.

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