An outbreak of Meningitis affecting pockets of gay men across the United States is worrying officials and has led to 8 deaths.
Officials aren’t sure why the cases of the rare and possibly fatal disease have disproportionately impacted gay men but the cities have started offering the meningitis vaccine for free at local gay health centers and events targeting the LGBT community.
Since 2000 there have been 46 cases of the disease across Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City and 38 of those reported have infected gay men and 8 have resulted in death.
The Governing has claimed that in the LA County alone, 13 cases, all gay men, have been reported just this year.
“True, we are talking about 13 cases in L.A. But 13 cases is too many for a completely preventable disease,” said Robert Bolan, the medical director of the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
Meningitis, which has symptoms similar to those of the flu, is spread through continuous close contact e.g. college students living in dorms.
It causes inflammation of the spinal cord and brain, which can lead to brain damage or death in just hours or days if left untreated.
There’s a vaccine but only for some of the disease’s bacterial and viral strains.
Officials also worry that the new cases may have been sexually transmitted, which would be a new development in the disease’s history.
Sarah Kemple, medical director of the communicable diseases program at the Chicago Department of Public Health, can only guess why the outbreaks are affecting gay men more than others.
“Men who have sex with men tend to have very tight-knit social networks, similar to what you would see among colleges,” she said.
The three cities have started working together to figure out the best ways to eliminate the disease and keep it from spreading within and outside their jurisdictions.
“Our key objective is to get the vaccine out there, and we’ve made broad strides there,” said Kemple.
Despite the concern among health officials that the disease will spread to gay communities in other large cities, Bolan is hopeful now that the CDC is on the case.
“We’ve reached a tipping point with the CDC,” said Bolan. “It’s now on everybody’s radar.”