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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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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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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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Mike April 05 2014 at 6:32 PM

When I got viral meningitus 12 years ago, 2 other people where I worked were infected also. The lady at work's daughter died at age 19 from it (they think she was the source for it getting into our building). One of those industrial cleaning companies came in and essentially "bleached" the building end to end. Their best guess was the water fountain. Wicked neck pain and headache (I had a 105 degree temp also), I was in a coma for a day...and if you've never had a spinal tap it is no trip to Disney World. 3 solid days of IV antibiotics and morphine for the pain. Nothing to joke about and certainly not a "gay" disease as some are posting. It just happened to be centralized in a group of gay people this time. The other story talks how it went through Princeton the same way. If there is a workable vaccine, I'd recommend getting it.

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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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mrscdel April 05 2014 at 12:08 PM

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

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bzzzbayte April 05 2014 at 7:41 PM

its a deadly disease

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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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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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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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