Local officials are urging individuals, particularly gay and bisexual men in the community, to be vaccinated against meningitis, as seven new cases of meningitis have appeared in men who have sex with men since the beginning of May, according to the county Department of Public Health.
More than one of those cases has originated in Long Beach, although the exact case count from the area isn’t available, according to The LGBTQ Center’s director of health and wellness, Ismael Salamanca.
“We’re not getting many calls [about vaccines] this year,” said Salamanca, who attributed the lower call volume to a 2014 outbreak and vaccination campaign that led many members of the community to obtain vaccinations. A total of three people died of the illness in 2014. “The vaccinations last up to five years, so that may be why,” said Salamanca.
Meningitis, or Meningococcal disease, is reportedly fatal in one in 10 patients, and often starts with flu-like symptoms, before progressing to high fever, headache, confusion, stiff neck and rash, according to the health department.
Officials underscored the importance for members of the LGBT community, especially to obtain vaccinations.
“The number of infections among men, most of whom identify as gay or bisexual, is substantially more than would be expected,'' said interim Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser. “This is of great concern, and we want to ensure that individuals who are at risk get vaccinated and take other precautions to stop the spread of this deadly disease.''
Salamanca said gay and bisexual men with multiple partners are at a higher risk of infections. That, coupled with the fact that HIV disproportionately affects the LGBT population, means more people are at risk of infection.
“That’s why we’re reaching out to make sure more people get vaccinated,” said Salamanca.
Meningitis vaccinations are recommended for all HIV-infected people and all gay/bisexual men, regardless of HIV status, “who regularly have close or intimate contact with multiple partners or who seek partners through digital applications, particularly those who share cigarettes/marijuana or use illegal drugs,” according to the health department.
To decrease the likelihood of infection, Salamanca urged the community to avoid sharing cigarettes, drinks and toothbrushes around people and not having multiple kissing partners.
To participate in the county’s vaccine program, call the Long Beach Department of Health at 562.570.4212. Vaccines are available to all at no cost through the Dept. of Health or through AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) at their Long Beach location: 1043 Elm Avenue.
City News Service contributed to this report.