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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.

Join the discussion

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Pinot Man April 05 2014 at 2:54 PM


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Irish April 06 2014 at 1:12 AM

Get the vaccination! Rush!

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margaret April 06 2014 at 1:22 AM

I lived in Long Beach,CA during the 1950 and 1960 era and they had a Hospital there just for that and nobody was alloud to see anyone without complete covering them self's from top to bottom. Never went there but there was a sign contagise area stay away it was on Redondo ST. I was just a teen at the time and was scared and asked my mom and dad about it they said stay away.

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jenny` news April 05 2014 at 6:40 PM

Another disease people should be aware of and mabe be tested for is Hepititis C millions have it and it eventually destroys your liver.
I am hetero and now it has nothing to do with your lifestyle. It effects everyone.
I had it after a fight with pneumonia and was in a coma for many months. I also lost hearing in one ear and lots of memory.
I had to learn to walk and remember peoples names.
Excuse my spelling but I also had to learn that over again.
I could not go back to my profession as an RN because all I learned was gone.

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2 replies
Jive Turkey jenny` news April 05 2014 at 6:49 PM

Sorry to hear that, do they have a hep C vaccine? Someone I know got shingles and he lost sight in one of his eyes. He said if you had chicken pox before then you can get shingles. I've had chicken pox so I been sort of wanting to get a shingles vaccine. I don't want to lose my eyesight. I didn't even realize until recently that you could lose your hearing or eyesight from stuff like this. I thought you just got real sick like the flu.

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1 reply
dash.flash Jive Turkey April 05 2014 at 7:30 PM

There's a vaccine for Hepatitis B, but none for Hep C. But Hep C is like HIV, it's only transmitted via an exhange of blood or semen. That's why it's also rampant in the community.

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Blessed One X 20 jenny` news April 05 2014 at 8:58 PM

This article states that this FORM of is it DOES have to do with their lifestyle. WHO has died from it? Surprise! Amazing how those who post "I know it all" comments always end or begin it with "I am a nurse...."

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1 reply
tfarnon Blessed One X 20 April 06 2014 at 2:44 AM

I'm NOT a nurse. I'm a "lab rat". And this particular type of bacterial meningitis only has to do with "their" lifestyle in that it involves alcohol consumption, lack of sleep, time spent in close quarters (crowded bars and clubs), and the sharing of glasses, plates, eating utensils and cigarettes that tends to occur when friends go out together. Oh--and kissing. Sounds a lot like college students, doesn't it? That's another major demographic for this particular type of bacterial meningitis. It wasn't so long ago that there were outbreaks at colleges on the East coast (Princeton?) and the West coast (Santa Barbara? Santa Cruz?). This is why many colleges now require dorm residents to get vaccinated in order to live on campus.

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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.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
WatergirlHawaii April 05 2014 at 9:47 PM

Everyone who is sexually active should watch the film "How to Survive a Plague". It may be difficult to watch, but please endure to the very end so EVERYONE will understand what actualy happened, went went wrong, what went right, and what could/should have been done from the onset, and why it wasn't done by those most at risk. It's an eye opener for sure.

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1 reply
WatergirlHawaii WatergirlHawaii April 05 2014 at 9:47 PM

PS: the DVD is available FREE at most public libraries!

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Shera April 05 2014 at 9:45 PM

as someone who had meningitis five years ago, I urge anyone who might feel at risk to get vaccinated and to be careful. I am a straight woman.. Meningitis doesn't care who you are, straight, gay, young and old. It is extremely painful, my whole body was on fire and couldn't move for two weeks.. I had to be moved by the nurses and Cna's. I was lucky and didn't lose any limbs or have scarring because mine was caught while in the hospital and very quickly. Its not a funny disease and affects thousands of people a year. A lot of people lose their life to this disease and I feel so bad for anyone who has to endure such agony.

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geocur3971 April 05 2014 at 1:16 PM

So, Luke Martel, facing enough medical evidence to convince a rather dumb horse, decides he doesn't really need to be vaccinated. And the County Public Health DIRECTOR, sends out an 'announcement' of the bacterial meningococcal infections, and deaths, but doesn't bother to mention IN THE SAME CORRESPONDENCE, the need for, the availability of, effective vaccinations?
And then DEFENDS IT?

Damn! But Americans are stupid!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
trudycranfo April 05 2014 at 12:19 PM

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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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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