April 20, 2013 at 9:53 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Whitman-Walker urges gay men to get meningitis vaccine
Whitman-Walker Health, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Whitman-Walker Health on Friday urged gay and bisexual men to get vaccinated against bacterial meningitis.

The health service provider in their announcement referenced New York state health officials’ recommendations that any gay man or MSM (man who has sex with men) who is at least 18 years old of any HIV status who has had “intimate contact with a man” they met online, through an app or at a bar or a party since Sept. 1, 2012, or “plan on having such contact in the future” should receive the vaccine.

This announcement comes on the heels of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reporting four new cases of meningitis among MSM have been reported in the five boroughs since the beginning of the year. The agency said 22 meningitis cases – seven of them fatal – have been reported in the city since 2010.

Brett Shaad, an attorney from West Hollywood, Calif., died from the disease at a Los Angeles hospital last week.

Karen Ocamb of Frontiers noted on Wednesday that three other gay men in Los Angeles have reportedly contacted meningitis since December, including Rjay Spoon who died on Dec. 16.

Ray Martins, chief medical officer of Whitman-Walker, told the Washington Blade earlier this week headaches, fever and a stiff neck are the most common symptoms associated with meningitis. It is spread through respiratory droplets or oral secretions. And the incubation period is typically between three and seven days.

“It’s not a gay disease,” Martins said. “It just happens to be spreading in the gay community.”

Dr. Saul Levin, interim director of the D.C. Department of Health, said on March 25 that he “strongly” recommends people with HIV and those who frequently travel to the New York City area to “consult with their physician regarding a meningitis vaccination.”

While noting there has not been an increase in meningitis cases in the nation’s capital, Levin released his statement on the same day the New York State Department of Health expanded the list of those whom it said should receive the vaccine to include MSM with HIV/AIDS and those who have engaged in activities described in the New York City advisory.

Whitman-Walker said its patients can request the vaccine from their health care provider. Those who do not receive care from the organization should contact their physician to get vaccinated.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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