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3 dead from Meningitis outbreak in Los Angeles

3 Dead From Meningitis Outbreak In Los Angeles

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (AP) - In the heart of this 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.

Several of the recent cases involved people who lived or socialized in North Hollywood and West Hollywood, an enclave for gays and lesbians where crosswalks are painted rainbow colors. Residents and visitors flock to bars and clubs lining Sunset Boulevard and displaying gay pride signs and flags.

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said people shouldn't be fearful of visiting the city. "It's not unexpected that where people socially congregate, there may be a small increase in communicable infections," he said.

The California Department of Public Health has received reports of 25 meningitis cases so far this year. Last year, there were 111 reported cases. Health officials don't yet know what strain is involved.

Advocates have criticized the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health's response, noting the agency on Wednesday initially reported the cluster of cases and asked gay men to seek vaccinations, but the agency didn't mention the deaths.

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, public health director, defended the department, saying a separate letter went out to doctors notifying them of the deaths. "There was no effort to hold anything back," he said.

In light of the meningitis deaths, a clinic affiliated with the AIDS Project Los Angeles vaccinated four people, said UCLA's Klausner, who's the medical director there.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation vaccinated nine people. Those who were immunized during last year's scare don't need another shot, said spokesman Ged Kenslea.

Many people asked about the disease Friday knew little or nothing about it. Frank Leigh, a 44-year-old online ad salesman, said he and his partner discussed it in passing but don't plan on getting vaccinated because they have been in a monogamous relationship for years.

"If I was still going out and doing the club thing I might be more concerned," he said.

He has never known anyone with meningitis, "but I know it's a serious thing. It's no joke. I hope guys will be careful out there. We don't want this thing blowing up."

___

AP Science Writer Alicia Chang contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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marina.valenzuela April 05 2014 at 1:42 PM

I don't understand. Where in this article or others I have read does it say that the people who died are not-vaccinated? I would actually like to know how many of these men were and/or weren't vaccinated. Many people think that just because you are vaccinated you are safe but that's not always true. In the case where people were blaming unvaccinated people for the measles outbreak many of the infected were vaccinated. By no means am I against vaccines, I believe in them. I just don't believe in jumping to conclusions that are clearly not printed in this article.

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aljoramaggio April 05 2014 at 2:47 PM

The vaccine has been around fo a while. Surprised that more peope have not bothered to get it.

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mrscdel April 05 2014 at 12:08 PM

behold a pale horse............

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tfarnon April 06 2014 at 2:11 AM

First, there are several kinds of meningitis: bacterial (the kind in this report), viral (seen sometimes with measles and mumps, as well as other viruses), fungal (usually only seen in immunocompromised individuals, and amebic (that brain-eating ameba that lives in brackish warm water). The viral kind is probably the most survivable. The rest, not as much.

It isn't homosexuality, bisexuality or promiscuity per se that causes people to become infected. A fair number of people are silent carriers of bacterial meningitis. It lives in their throats, more or less. These silent carriers have healthy immune systems that keep it at bay. What almost all the people infected in this and other recent outbreaks of bacterial meningitis have in common is an impaired, but not even severely impaired immune system, and habits that allow them to be infected more easily. Students are probably the most common victims of bacterial meningitis.

Why? Students are more likely to drink. Drinking alcohol impairs your immune system. Binge drinking impairs it even more. Students tend to experience a lot of mental stress. Mental stress impairs your immune system. Students tend to not get enough sleep. Insufficient sleep impairs your immune system. Students tend to not eat as well as they should. Poor nutrition can impair your immune system. Bottom line: A lot of students don't have immune systems up to the task of fighting off bacterial meningitis.

Now, add in students' propensity for sharing glasses and food, living in close quarters, and yes, kissing one another, and it's not difficult to see how the bacteria are transmitted. All of these things are also true of many people who are very active in "club scenes", whether they are gay, straight, bi or whatever else.

As for the vaccine and the strains of bacterial meningitis, the vaccine protects against four different Neisseria meningitidis strains: A, C, Y and W-135. There is an additional strain, B, which is prevented by the vaccine Bexsero, which is not licensed in the United States, but is licensed in Canada and Europe. There are other bacteria that can cause meningitis, but they are generally not as easily transmitted. And in any case, the other bacteria that most frequently causes meningitis in adults is the one responsible for the bacterial pneumonia prevented by pneumococcal vaccines.

I don't understand why people are so reluctant to get the vaccine. As vaccinations go, it's one of the milder ones.

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1 reply
nicolaxoxo tfarnon April 06 2014 at 3:01 AM

Thanks for the info.....too bad the article wasn't as informative as your comment. Hopefully all this will be well publicized in the LA area so more people get vaccinated so as to prevent more cases. Do you know if this Is a killed vaccine? I hesitate to get vaccines because I have Lupus and in the past I have suffered bad reactions to vaccines (killed flu vaccine and pneumonia vaccine).

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trudycranfo April 05 2014 at 12:19 PM

America
It was not until 1806 that meningitis finally made its way across the ocean, and into the United States. In the medical journal titled "Southern California Practitioner," Dr. Walter Lindley reveals that the first documented case of meningitis in America struck a small community in Medford, Massachusetts. The epidemic attracted such attention that a group of three physicians was commissioned by the State Medical Society to investigate the disease.

The Cause

A European physician by the name of Professor A. Weichselbaum finally discovered the cause of the mysterious cerebro-spinal meningitis illness in 1887. According to the Suburban Emergency Management Project, Professor Weichselbaum was able to narrow down the bacterial culprit of the disease. Neisseria meningitides, as the bacteria is referred to in early medical literature, would later become responsible for 2000 additional cases in the state of Texas, from October to February during 1911 and 1912.

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1 reply
JESUS LOVES ME trudycranfo April 05 2014 at 12:44 PM

Excellent opinion because you gave CAUSES and some HISTORY. Thank you !

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nrthamerca1850 April 05 2014 at 1:12 PM

Hmmm, if people here want to chat up ignorance and intolerance then let the conversation include the late homosexual hate propogandist Robert Maplethorpe. Let the conversation include the hate propoganda spewed by prime time television which targets the Catholic Church and Chritians regularly. Anything short of that, shows that you really do not care about targetting ignorance in general, just in the specific.

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lthornton918 April 05 2014 at 5:12 PM

You don't have to be gay to get Meningitis. I know small children that have had it.

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Pinot Man April 05 2014 at 2:54 PM

PEOPLE DO AS THEY WANT NOT MY BUSINESS TO SAY IF THEY ARE RIGHT OR WRONG!!!! WHY YALE WHEN THE OUT BREAK IS IN L.A???????????????????????????????????

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sailor7379 April 05 2014 at 2:05 PM

I"m safe. The mantra of the spreaders of disease.

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dazey1st April 05 2014 at 11:42 PM

My niece aged about 8 (almost 43 years ago) contracted meningitis and was isolated. This was in the late 50's in our small town in England. There were no other cases. She was visited by my brother and sister in law donned in sterile clothing head and body their eyes behind a visor. Unlike the symptoms of passing in the community in LA it was never discovered how she contracted it. Not being much older I didn't understand how dangerous is was and why I couldn't go. Only her parents were allowed in. My brother was in the Royal Navy and often posted overseas but if it came from there he never had it. I never knew that there were different strains.

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1 reply
goldie841 dazey1st April 06 2014 at 12:12 AM

I too had mennigitis when I was 5 -am now 72, I almost died -remember how long ago this was-- I was in a coma for a long time and had seizures too. My mom and dad's church had a prayer service on the steps of the hospital for a healing service-- YES! I was healed -the next day I woke and was fine after that. Please don't reply with obsene comments . My LORD lives today too.

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