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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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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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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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BOB April 05 2014 at 3:19 PM

best to get vaccinated instead of risking harm to yourself.

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1 reply
CAMERON BOB April 05 2014 at 3:26 PM

I agree

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mrscdel April 05 2014 at 12:08 PM

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

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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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Leslee April 05 2014 at 7:41 PM

q< 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.>

That kind of thinking is what causes meningitis to spread. You can't tell if someone you've had contact with (non sexual) is infected and spreading it. Meningitis doesn't care about monogamy. I'm not saying everyone needs to panic, but what happened to " better safe than sorry...or dead". How many headstones need to read, "I coulda/shoulda got the shot".

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1 reply
tfarnon Leslee April 06 2014 at 2:35 AM

Seriously. I don't understand why so many people are so resistant or averse to vaccination. Granted, I've had more than my share since childhood because my family traveled overseas when I was little (late 1960s/early 1970s), and I later served in the US Army. I can tell you this--even the worst of the vaccines was better than the best of the illnesses I did have. The worst vaccine was Typhoid. It was a walk in the park compared to influenza (before the vaccine was widely used), mumps (that one failed for me), whooping cough (vaccine failure) or chickenpox (no vaccine available when I caught it). I'll take my chances and get whatever vaccines are available and appropriate.

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bzzzbayte April 05 2014 at 7:41 PM

its a deadly disease

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Jive Turkey April 05 2014 at 6:26 PM

I guess no one is talking to me today.

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2 replies
djandthepk2 Jive Turkey April 05 2014 at 6:31 PM

stay out of the gay bars jive and you should be alright

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1 reply
Jive Turkey djandthepk2 April 05 2014 at 6:37 PM

I don't go to gay bars. But it doesn't sound like it's a gay person disease. The mainstream media is always coming out with articles like this, to keep people fighting each other. Gays vs Straights, Christians vs Atheists, Conservatives vs Liberals, Feminists vs Men, Republicans vs Democrats, Black vs White, Mexicans vs Blacks any kind of division they can promote and keep all of the slaves fighting against each other so they won't band together and go after the banks that are stealing everything in sight.

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maggiapreston Jive Turkey April 05 2014 at 6:32 PM

Try discussing it with your own physician. He/she will point you in the right direction!

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1 reply
Jive Turkey maggiapreston April 05 2014 at 6:38 PM

Ok, thank you. : )

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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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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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