Saturday, April 13, 2013

WARNING! Deadly Meningitis Virus Now In Los Angeles County

Bad news from Los Angeles today. The deadly strain of meningitis which has led to the sudden deaths of multiple gay men in the New York City area and resulted in calls for all sexually active gay men in NewYork State to get vaccinated has now appeared in West Hollywood, the main gayborhood of Los Angeles.

Karen Ocamb reports about the death of Brett Shaad, a 33-year-old gay man, at her LGBTPOV blog:

Brett Shaad died of bacterial meningitis Friday afternoon, April 12. The 33 year old West Hollywood resident was a lawyer, a real estate broker and very popular among his friends, many of whom surrounded his bed at Cedar Sinai Hospital in shock and disbelief. 
“Last weekend I was with him at a local restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard,” said West Hollywood Councilmember John Duran at a news conference about the meningitis scare. “He was tall and muscular, robust, looking as fit as a fiddle and we notified on Wednesday he was at Cedars and then yesterday, he was in a coma. And now he’s going to be removed from life support.” 
Duran said that there is no evidence yet to connect this particular strain of meningitis to the strain in New York City that has resulted in 22 cases since 2010, with seven deaths.  However, the prevalence of the disease is the same – it is hitting sexually active gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men. 
“Here, in the City of West Hollywood, we obviously have a very large number of gay men in our city and our community. We’re very concerned that two weeks ago, the White Party gathered about 10,000 gay men in the city of Palm Springs – including [gay men] from New York.” 
But, Duran suggested, West Hollywood itself is a large gathering of LGBT people who, by nature or design, enjoy hugging, kissing, dancing in a way that produces sweat, and having close contact often without thinking. 
“We’re seriously concerned because every weekend in the City of West Hollywood, we host in the neighborhood of 200,000 LGBT people who come here for our nightclubs and night life – so we want to place the community on high alert that we may have an issue,” Duran said.  “We’re going to be monitoring this very closely. I asked the personnel here – including [LA County Health Dept. Area Director] Dr. Liggins upstairs: when does an outbreak become an outbreak?  I was given the explanation that with the Ebola Virus, one case is an outbreak. With this particular case, we have one reported case here now. We’re hearing from a physician in town there may be one reported case in Palm Springs – so we’re very closely monitoring what’s happening. If we start to hear that there is another case or another case, we’ll be right back on the phone with Dr. Liggins to say, ‘OK, now if we have 2 or 3 cases in the West Hollywood community, do we have an outbreak yet?” 
Duran also raised concern about the availability of sufficient vaccine to prevent the spread, if requested by people at risk. “We’re going to be working with our partners at the Gay and Lesbian Center, as well as the pharmacies in town, to make sure we have – if necessary – enough vaccines to get it out there to prevent the spread of meningitis. We learned a very tough lesson 30 years ago that we are not going to go through again here in West Hollywood.”

This is scary news, y'all! Bacterial meningitis can kill you in a few days from the onset of symptoms, if not treated right away. However, there is a vaccine which should inoculate you from contracting the disease.

According to Karen, the medical director of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center has sent a letter to the L.A. County department of health requesting that they provide vaccines to all gay men who request them (they cost $100-$200, and HIV-positive men need a double dose). I'm not sure what the status of the request is, but I will try to cover more details of this story as more is known. You should also check Karen Ocamb's coverage at Frontiers L.A..

hat/tip to Karen Ocamb

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