There has been growing concern in the community in recent weeks about a number of cases of bacterial meningitis among gay men in New York City and Los Angeles.
Whitman-Walker Health is and always has been dedicated to helping protect the health of the LGBT community. While we encourage people to pay attention to these cases and to take proper precautions to protect your health, we do want to make sure you have the correct information to take care of yourself.
Bacterial meningitis is not a “gay” disease as anyone can acquire the infection and it will tend to spread through communities. To date, New York City has reported 22 meningitis cases and seven deaths among gay men since 2010. Los Angeles has reported three meningitis deaths in gay men since December.
There have currently been no cases of meningitis among gay and bisexual men in D.C. If such an outbreak does occur, the city’s Department of Health will issue a warning.
The most common symptoms of meningitis are stiff neck, headache and fever. Other potential symptoms include nausea, vomiting, confusion or disorientation, sensitivity to light or noise and a rash. The symptoms of bacterial meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. Typically they develop within three to seven days after exposure. If you have any of these symptoms, please see a health care provider right away. If you do have meningitis, immediate treatment is vital.
Meningitis is transmitted from person to person through exposure to an infected person’s oral fluids. This could be from kissing, coughing or sneezing. It can also be transmitted through sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses.
There is a vaccine for bacterial meningitis. We currently have the meningitis vaccine in stock for our patients.
The New York Department of Health and Gay Men’s Health Crisis have released the following criteria for who should be vaccinated in New York. If you are a gay man or a MSM, you should consider being vaccinated: “Regarding who should receive the vaccine during this outbreak, any gay man or MSM who is at least 18 years of age, regardless of HIV status, and has had intimate contact with a man they met through a website (Manhunt, Adam 4 Adam, etc.), digital application (GRINDR, SCRUFF, etc.), a bar, or a party since September 1, 2012 or plan on having such contact in the future.”
WWH is monitoring the situation across the country, along with the D.C. Department of Health. We are also actively monitoring our patients for any signs of meningitis.
If an outbreak does occur in D.C., we will work with the Department of Health to ensure the general public will be able to come to Whitman-Walker for vaccination.
If you are a gay man or a MSM, especially someone who travels frequently, you can request the vaccine from your health care provider.
We will keep you abreast of all developments in order to keep the community healthy.
Dr. Ray Martins is chief medical officer of Whitman-Walker Health.