Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

Los Angeles County health officials will join with the Los Angeles LGBT Center Thursday to urge gay and bisexual men to be vaccinated against meningitis, local cases of which have spiked in recent months.

According to the LA County Department of Public Health, seven new cases of invasive meningococcal disease were diagnosed in the county in the last two months, bringing the number of cases this year to 11.

The most recent patient is a young adult gay man who was hospitalized. He was the fourth recent case in the L.A. County health agency’s jurisdiction to occur among self-identified gay men or men who have sex with men. Including cases from Long Beach and Orange County, there have been seven cases among men who have sex with men since the beginning of May.

“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.”

Gunzenhauser is expected to join officials from the Los Angeles LGBT Center, city of Long Beach health department and AIDS Project Los Angeles today to encourage at-risk populations to get vaccinated.

On Tuesday, County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl introduced a motion calling on county health officials to develop a “comprehensive vaccination campaign,” particularly targeting gay and bisexual men.

“We have seen a small number of cases of this dangerous disease since 2012,” Kuehl said. “And, although our county health officer began recommending vaccination in 2014, we are still not seeing enough of our residents protecting themselves and getting vaccinated.

“We need a comprehensive response targeting the highest-risk population, men who have sex with men, to ensure that individuals who are at risk get vaccinated,” she said.

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.”

Health officials said people can also help prevent the spread of the disease by not sharing drinks, utensils, food, toothbrushes, cigarettes, cigars or pipes; and not having multiple kissing partners.

Meningococcal disease can start with flu-like symptoms, then progress to high fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion and rash, according to the health department. The disease is fatal in about one in 10 patients.

—City News Service

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