LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) — A 33-year-old West Hollywood attorney sickened by bacterial meningitis earlier this week has been declared brain dead amid warnings to sexually active gay men about the deadly strain of illness, officials said.
Brett Shaad was declared brain dead but remained on life support Friday afternoon, said Elizabeth Ashford, a spokeswoman for Shaad’s family. She declined to release further details.
That corrected a statement made earlier in the day by West Hollywood Councilman John Duran who said Shaad had died and had been removed from life support.
Duran said later that friends who were in Shaad’s hospital room since told him that he was declared brain dead.
Duran, who saw Shaad last weekend, described the openly gay man as being “robust and healthy” prior to Monday, when he began to feel sick.
On Wednesday, he went into the emergency room. By Thursday, he was in a coma.
“What happened here happened very quickly. We just want to make sure that people are alert and alarmed to know that if you’re experiencing anything like this, please don’t take it for granted. Don’t assume it is the flu, especially if you’re sexually active. Make sure it’s not meningitis,” said Duran.
Earlier Friday, officials warned sexually active gay men to beware of the potentially deadly health threat because Shaad’s case was detected in Los Angeles County.
Although cases of meningitis are not unusual, officials worry the strain could be similar to one responsible for a deadly outbreak in New York City. There, 22 cases were reported with seven ending up being fatalities.
Los Angeles County health officials say they will be testing samples from the victim to see if there is a match. They also stressed the numbers in Los Angeles are not at outbreak levels.
“We don’t want to panic people,” Duran said. “But we learned 30 years ago the consequences of delay in the response to AIDS.”
The illness can spread through saliva or other throat secretions but not by casual contact. It is treatable with antibiotics and vaccines are available.
Symptoms are flu-like and include headache, fever, and a stiff neck. The symptoms may develop over several hours or just a day or two.
Shaad attended the White Party in Palm Springs the weekend of March 30, Duran said.
The event attracts thousands of partygoers from all over the country for dancing and revelry. As of Friday, Riverside County health officials had not received any reports of cases.
However, Shaad’s brother Brian Shaad criticized some of Duran’s statements as inaccurate.
“Brett remains on life support in the hospital. No conclusions have been drawn regarding when, or how, he may have contracted meningitis. We ask for privacy during this incredibly painful period,” he said in a statement sent by email early Saturday.
At least one local business, Equinox health club in West Hollywood, confirmed Shaad visited their facility on April 6.
Equinox executive Jack Gannon said the clubs are always rigorously cleaned, and the notification was sent to members only to “ensure them of the safety of our club.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say catching the illness isn’t always a death sentence, but bacterial meningitis is usually severe. Those who survive might suffer serious complications including brain damage and hearing loss.
In the U.S., about 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis, including 500 deaths, occurred between 2003 and 2007, the CDC reports.
Duran said he plans to introduce an urgency item on Monday to appropriate $20,000 for vaccines, for those who can’t afford them otherwise.
“I think the county health department is dragging its feet and we don’t have the luxury of waiting,” said Duran.
The city is also partnering with gay advocacy groups to raise awareness by posting notices in West Hollywood gyms.
“For a lot of our younger community members, 35 and under, this is the first time they’ve lost a friend who is young and healthy,” Duran said. “A lot of us over 40 are having déjà vu, having lived through the AIDS epidemic.”
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