3 Gay Men Die Of Meningitis Infections
WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- In the heart of close-knit gay community, Luke Martel reflects the feelings of many when it comes to a strain of meningitis that has killed three gay men this year in Los Angeles County: He’s concerned but not overly so.
Martel, a gay bartender who moved to West Hollywood from New York City several months ago, called the deaths from the rare bacterial infection that can be passed by kissing, sharing utensils or coughing "a little scary" but said he doesn’t plan to heed calls to get vaccinated.
"I might not take a drag off someone’s cigarette now. And I’ll run from people who don’t cover their mouths when they cough," he said. But otherwise, he believes, "I’m safe."
Health officials this week announced a cluster of cases of invasive meningococcal disease that sickened eight people in the LA area. Among those who fell ill, half were gay or bisexual, including the three who died. Two of the victims were HIV-positive.
Meningitis infections occasionally pop up in places where people interact closely. The risk of infection is considered low among any population, but those with compromised immune systems are more susceptible, health experts say.
"It is concerning," said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is offering free meningitis vaccinations.
The disease attacks the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It can only be spread through close contact. Symptoms including fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting that can develop within days of being exposed.
College campuses, high school locker rooms and prisons can be breeding grounds for the disease. In recent years, gay communities in New York, Chicago and Toronto have seen outbreaks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2010, New York has recorded 22 meningitis infections among gay men and seven deaths.
The latest cases in Los Angeles, which aren’t considered an outbreak, come a year after a 33-year-old lawyer from West Hollywood was stricken with meningitis after attending a party in Palm Springs. He fell into a coma and died.