LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Public health officials issued new vaccination guidelines Wednesday after a reported jump in the number of meningitis cases this year among gay men in Los Angeles County.
The Department of Public Health has confirmed a total of eight cases of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) in Los Angeles County so far this year, including four cases reported among men who have sex with men (MSM), of which three men who were HIV-positive, officials said.
Of the four IMD cases among MSM, three reported either residence in or socializing around the West Hollywood and North Hollywood areas, according to health officials. One of the four MSM cases was reportedly 50 years old, while the other three were between 27 and 28 years old.
While the bacteria that causes meningococcal disease is not spread by casual contact, such as being in the same room as an infected person or handling items that an infected person has touched, officials have linked certain high-risk activities with the transmission of IMD, including:
- smoking (marijuana, cigarettes, and hookah);
- close contact with an infected person (sharing beverages or cigarettes, kissing, coughing); and
- staying in group settings (such as dorms, jails or shelters) for a prolonged period of time.
Public Health director Dr. Jonathan Fielding recommended the meningococcal vaccine for men in the Los Angeles gay community — regardless of HIV status — who “regularly have close or intimate contact with multiple partners, or who seek partners through the use of digital applications, particularly those who share cigarettes, marijuana or use illegal drugs.”
At-risk MSM who don’t have health insurance can obtain a free vaccination through the Department of Public Health, according to Fielding.
Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said the organization was prepared to respond to the new data.
“We hope and trust that Los Angeles County will include the community as essential partners in this effort,” said Weinstein in a statement. “You cannot mount an effective defense against meningitis without full community participation.”
The report comes nearly one year after a wave of deaths due to a more fatal bacterial meningitis strain that killed two gay Los Angeles men and a San Diego State University student.
County officials plan to offer free vaccines to residents without health insurance starting Thursday. Click here (PDF) for a list of clinics or call 211 for the county information line.
(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)