Eight people in Los Angeles County have been diagnosed with invasive meningococcal disease this year, health officials announced today as they issued a call for gay men to be vaccinated against the potentially fatal ailment.
According to the county Department of Public Health, three of the eight patients either lived or were known to socialize in the West Hollywood or North Hollywood areas. The county plans to offer free vaccinations to people without health insurance beginning tomorrow.
Dr. Jonathan Fielding, head of the county health department, said men who have sex with other men should be vaccinated -- especially those who find partners online or who share cigarettes, marijuana or illegal drugs.
Of the eight cases reported in the county, four involved men who have sex with other men, including three who were HIV-positive, according to the county.
“AIDS Healthcare Foundation is ready to respond immediately to this heath issue, and we hope and trust that Los Angeles County will include the community as essential partners in this effort," said Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, in a statement issued today. "You cannot mount an effective defense against meningitis without full community participation.”
County DPH officials consulted with state health experts and the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, and they recommended vaccinations for all men who have sex with men, regardless of whether they consider themselves gay or bisexual, and regardless of their HIV status.
Health officials noted that the risk of contracting IMD is low among the general population, noting that the bacteria is less contagious than viruses that cause the flu. Activities that can put people at risk of the disease include:
- Smoking, including marijuana, cigarettes and hookah
- Close contact with an infected person, including sharing beverages or cigarettes, kissing and coughing
- Staying in group setting such as dorms, jails or shelters for extended periods
The infection can cause brain damage, hearing loss or potentially death. Symptoms can include fever, stiff neck, skin rash, severe headaches, low blood pressure and muscle pain. The disease spreads quickly, so fast diagnosis and treatment is "imperative," health officials said.
The county plans to offer free vaccines to residents without health insurance beginning tomorrow. A list of clinics is available by calling the county information line at 2-1-1 or online at http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/.
--City News Service
Patch Senior Local Editor Penny Arévalo contributed to this report.