Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Director of the LA County Department of Public Health, held a news conference Wednesday afternoon, April 17, to respond to the anxiety around the reports now of four gay men who contracted meningitis since last December, two of whom - Brett Shaad and Rjay Spoon - have died. I spoke with Fielding after the news conference and am working on that story - but I wanted to post a quick summation first. (You can listen to the entire news conference here [mp3].)
Fielding said this is NOT an outbreak because the CDC criteria for an outbreak establishing specific links among the cases have not been established. He did acknowledge, however, that there is an 85 percent overlap between three cases here in Los Angeles and cases in New York City, where the bacterial meningitis infection has caused seven deaths since 2010. Fielding said they are still investigating the strains of bacterial infection.
Fielding also said that the rate of new infections this year is similar to the average 25 cases annually they've seen over the past five to eight years. Nonetheless, Public Health will remain "vigilant and on alert" and ready to respond "at the first hint" of an outbreak.
Fielding also specifically said, "This is not a gay disease," and while it is high contagious, it is "rare and sporadic," and "not as communicable as many viral diseases, or influenza or the common cold." Symptoms are sudden high fever, headache, a stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, a rash - all of which can be treated with antibiotics if caught quickly. If not, meningococcal disease can lead to brain damage, loss of hearing, and even death.
You can catch the disease through close contact and through respiratory and throat secretions such as through coughing, sneezing, spittle inadvertently spewed during a close conversation, and wet kissing. It is not exchange through sexual contact per se - except where infected saliva can enter the nose or mouth. To prevent contracting meningitis, practice good cleanliness such as washing your hands, covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough - and asking others to do so, too, if they are not. If you are having a conversation at a bar or event over loud music or noise, turn your head slightly to make sure you don't accidentally spit or get spat upon. And don't share cups, utensils or cigarettes where saliva can be exchanged. Kissing - well, that's where it might be advisable to consider getting a vaccination, which apparently has little to no side effects. People who are HIV positive need two doses.
The City of West Hollywood and the City of Long Beach - which has not had any cases of meningitis - have both issued alerts - the latter, Fielding suggested, because Long Beach Gay Pride is coming up and people might want to get vaccinated.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation has already provided up to 1700 free vaccines and the LA Gay & Lesbian Center is also providing free vaccines through appointment. At the news conference on Wednesday, Fielding announced that Public Health will provide free vaccine to people without insurance at these locations:
Harbor-UCLA Medical Center
1000 W. Carson St.
Torrance, CA 90502
Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Saturday/Sunday 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m
High Desert Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center
44900 N. 60th St West
Lancaster, CA 93536
7 Days a Week 8:00 am - 12 Midnight
LAC + USC Medical Center
2051 Marengo Street
Los Angeles, CA 90033
Monday - Saturday 7:30 a.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Hubert H. Humphrey Comprehensive Health Center
5850 S. Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90003
7 Days a Week 8:00 a.m. - Midnight
H. Claude Hudson Comprehensive Health Center
2829 S. Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90007
7 Days a Week 8:00 a.m. - Midnight
MLK Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center (MACC)
12021 S. Wilmington Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90059
7 Days a Week 7:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Olive View-UCLA Medical Center
144454 Olive View Dr.
Sylmar, Ca. 91342
Monday - Friday 8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Saturday 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.