Los Angeles County and Orange County health officials urged all gay and bisexual men in the county to obtain vaccines today, regardless of their risk status, as the spread of meningitis has officially been labeled an outbreak by the state.
According to health officials, 19 people have hit by the disease this year, with 10 cases involving men who have sex with men, and six cases in Long Beach.
“We acknowledge this broadens our prior recommendations,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, Los Angeles County's interim health officer. “But after careful consultation with the CDC and health officers in other affected jurisdictions, we consider that this expansion of the vaccination recommendations is a necessary step to suppress this outbreak.”
A spike in the number of new meningitis cases in May and June heightened the alarm among officials, hearkening back to the most recent outbreak of meningococcal disease, which occurred in 2014. However, the term "outbreak," as defined by the CDC, means the diagnosis of three or more cases over the course of three months, which is not necessarily a cause for panic, said The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach's Director of Health and Wellness Ismael Salamanca.
The previous county recommendations focused on men who have sex with men and also engaged in behaviors such as having “close or intimate contact with multiple partners or who seek partners through digital applications, particularly those who share cigarettes/marijuana or use illegal drugs.''
In light of the increased cases, The Center is hosting another free vaccination clinic this weekend, Saturday, July 30, from 10:00AM to 2:00PM at its headquarters (2017 East 4th Street). For more information, click here.
The AIDS Healthcare foundation is offering free vaccines at its health centers in Hollywood, West Adams, Sherman Oaks and Long Beach. Additionally, members of the public can obtain free vaccines at the Long Beach Department of Health or through AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) at their Long Beach location: 1043 Elm Avenue.
According to Salamanca, Long Beach's six confirmed cases of meningitis were concentrated in the downtown Long Beach area and were across the board in terms of ethnicity. He said the ages of those diagnosed with the disease ranged from 23 to 49, with a median age of 25. All of those infected have found renewed health, and remain "unscathed" said Salamanca.
Salamanca said up until this point, he hadn’t seen increased traffic revolving around vaccinations.
“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, but none of those infected lived in Long Beach. “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.
To participate in the county’s vaccine program, call the Long Beach Department of Health at 562.570.4212.
City News Service contributed to this report.