- April 17, 2013
Post submitted by Shane Snowdon, former HRC Director, Health & Aging Program
The death of a gay man in Los Angeles on April 13 from bacterial meningitis has prompted GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing Equality and HRC, the country’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, to partner to provide information about the disease. As explained below, we encourage anyone concerned about meningitis to contact their healthcare provider for more information and possible vaccination.
Invasive meningococcal disease, commonly known as bacterial meningitis, is not limited to LGBT people. The highest rates of bacterial meningitis occur among infants less than a year old, and “clusters” of the disease can occur in dorms, prisons, and other settings where people may be in prolonged close contact.
Since 2010, a “cluster” of 22 cases of bacterial meningitis, seven of them fatal, has been reported among gay and bisexual men in New York City. Because this type of meningitis can be prevented by vaccination, New York City health officials in March 2013 recommended vaccination for New York City men who are HIV-positive and and/or “who regularly have close or intimate contact with other men.” Vaccination side effects are typically mild.
The New York City health department also issued a factsheet for men seeking more detailed information about bacterial meningitis and their personal risk. The factsheet notes that approximately 20 percent of those who acquire the disease die from it, and that typical symptoms include high fever, headache, stiff neck and rash. People with symptoms, particularly if they believe they may have been exposed, are urged to seek immediate medical care, since antibiotics can be used to treat bacterial meningitis.
After New York City identified a meningitis cluster among local gay and bisexual men, health officials in San Francisco and New York State recommended that some men in those regions who plan to travel to New York City consult their healthcare providers about meningitis vaccination. Los Angeles health officials have not yet officially recommended vaccination for gay and bisexual men there, but local health organizations, including the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, are now offering meningitis vaccinations on a stepped-up basis.
The LA Center notes that some insurance plans cover the cost of meningitis vaccination, that the vaccine otherwise costs about $120-$150 per dose, and that LA public health officials have been asked to make vaccine available to those who cannot afford it. The Center adds that “people with HIV require different doses of the vaccine, so they should disclose their status to their medical provider.”
Gay and bisexual men in other parts of the country who are concerned about meningitis are encouraged to discuss it with their healthcare provider, since preventive vaccination is available. In a recent interview, Dr. Thomas Clark of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) noted that anyone worried about bacterial meningitis should explore vaccination with a healthcare professional.