Meningitis Spike Among Gay, Bi Men Leads City to Order Vaccine Doses

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New York City may order up to 10,000 vaccine doses to offer to HIV-positive gay and bisexual men. | WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION

While a September 27 alert from New York City’s health department warned of a cluster of four cases of “invasive meningococcal disease” that occurred among the city’s gay and bisexual men in the past four weeks, there have been 12 cases altogether since August of 2010 and four of those men have died.

Among the 12 cases, one occurred in 2010, three occurred in 2011, and eight occurred this year, according to a separate alert that was distributed to health care providers on September 27. The men ranged in age from 21 to 59, and eight were HIV-positive.

“Eight of the 12 cases were known to be infected with the human immunodeficiency virus,” read the health care provider alert. “Five reported using cocaine and/ or crystal methamphetamine. Four reported using Internet sites to meet men for sex. Three cases, however, were not known to be HIV-infected, did not report using drugs, and did not report using Internet sites to meet men for sex.”

Six of the cases were in Brooklyn, three were in Manhattan, two were in the Bronx, and the remaining case was “undomiciled.” The health care provider alert put the “approximate annual incidence rate” of meningitis among men who have sex with men in New York City at 5.4 cases per 100,000 people as opposed to 0.25 per 100,000 among all New Yorkers. The meningitis strain causing the current outbreak is related to a strain that caused an earlier outbreak.

“Genetic analysis suggests that 6 of 7 infections are related to a strain of N. meningitidis that was responsible for the 2006 outbreak in New York City,” read the health care provider alert.

The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reminded health care providers that they are required to report suspected and confirmed meningitis cases to DOHMH.

Meningitis is a common bacteria spread through sustained contact with infected individuals. Most people who are exposed to the bug will not become ill or develop symptoms.

“Examples of prolonged contact include living in the same household or intimate activities, including kissing and sexual contact,” read the alert that was sent to the press. “Common symptoms of meningitis are high fever, headache, stiff neck, and rash that develop rapidly within 2 days.”

People who are exposed, but uninfected can receive antibiotics to prevent infection, and there is a meningitis vaccine. Gay City News has learned that the city will buy 10,000 vaccine doses and launch a campaign to convince HIV-positive gay and bisexual men in New York City to take the vaccine.

A DOHMH spokesperson said the agency would be buying “some” doses, though the number was undecided, and the agency was still trying to figure out how and to whom the vaccine should be given.

[Editor's note: Later on September 28, Alexandra Waldhorn, DOHMH's deputy press secretary, told Gay City News, “We have not purchased 10,000 doses and have not decided to launch a campaign. Both references need to be corrected. If anything changes, we’ll be sure to let you know.”]

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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Reader feedback

Perley J. Thibodeau says:
More explicit information please? As Joan Rivers so aptly stated many many years ago: "We'll all soon have to start walking around completely encased in plastic Saran Wrap.
Sept. 28, 2012, 4:47 pm
Dick Whitman says:
We don't all need to walk around encased in Saran Wrap. We need to wrap our members up in it and stop pretending that STI's are par for the course and that there are 'less risky' sexual practices. It's this warped mentality that sexual pleasure outweighs our community's health. Aren't we tired of outbreaks like this or outbreaks of syphilis in years past or HIV in the 80s? Apparently, we never learn our lesson in this area.
Sept. 29, 2012, 2:37 am
Olive Austin says:
Dick - Did you not read the story and/or know nothing about meningitis? It is spread by casual contact as well as by other means. One of the populations it affects most are young, healthy college students who commit the sin of living in a dorm --- my local mega-university requires all incoming freshmen to be vaccinated even if they're going to live off-campus. Have you invented a dorm condom?
Sept. 29, 2012, 9:10 pm
jason says:
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is engaging in homophobic identity politics. If you look at its wording, it suggests that your sexual orientation as a gay man will put you at risk. No such thing. Your orientation does not make you any more susceptible than anyone else. I can't stand the homophobic identity politics of this department. It needs to be exposed as the sensationalist fear-mongering organization it is. As for how to avoid catching illnesses, how about being chaste or monogamous? Promiscuity is never a good career move.
Sept. 29, 2012, 10:06 pm
Phil says:
Both gay and straight people need to have some self-respect. Keep it in your pants, stop having sex with men from sites on the internet. What happened to normal dating, and waiting for the right person?
Sept. 30, 2012, 1 am
jdb says:
You won't stop meningococcal transmission with a condom. It spreads through sustained physical proximity. Having survived a minor outbreak of it back during my military training, I would know.
Sept. 30, 2012, 2:50 am
NorthAlabama says:
speak for yourself instead of using that all inclusive "we". some of us practive safe sexual behaviors, some do not, and that is true whether you are gay or straight.
Sept. 30, 2012, 5:33 am
Chris says:
It is transmitted by saliva, either directly (kissing) or indirectly (drink from someone else's cup). This is not a STI. Please refrain from commenting on an article before reading it at least 50% through, to minimized the progressive loss of people's collective faith on the educational system
Sept. 30, 2012, 9:44 am
mike says:
So, what do you suggest. Celibacy? Isolation?
Sept. 30, 2012, 12:49 pm
Simon says:
OMG the prudes on here are making me vomit. Are these bourgeois upper class fags still embarrassed of the sexual conduct of the ones who don't perform their sexuality along the line of heteronormativity. Don't tell me I should be living like a ultra-conservative and bigoted straight couple you reactionary pricks! Hands off my body -- and confront your internalized homophobia!
Oct. 1, 2012, 6:15 pm
bp294 says:
Why is nothing about this outbreak appearing in the mainstream NYC media (namely, the tabloids, NYTimes, tv and radio stations)? Sexually active MSM (men having sex with men), HIV positive or not, ought to be vaccinated NOW according to the NYC Health Dept's most recent alert, but the word isn't getting out broadly even within the gay community. Yes, there is some confusion with the fungal meningitis scare of several months past, but it would be easy enough to clear up any confusion with the bacterial meningitis threat now facing NYC and environs. I'm only hearing about it in the gay press! I'm particularly concerned that DL (downlow) men of color are not getting the message, as well as out men of color who are not plugged into the mainstream (read: mostly white, Chelsea-Clinton axis) gay community. I suspect fear of having gays stigmatized as "diseased" is one factor at work. I'm old enough to remember how reticence, shame and misguided political tact hampered getting the word out about AIDS. I just hope the same mistakes won't be repeated on this occasion.
Dec. 10, 2012, 10:27 pm

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