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San Francisco Chronicle
Meningitis outbreak in NY; gays warned
<p>Victoria Colliver</p>
December 6, 2012

San Francisco health officials warned gay men Thursday to get vaccinated against meningitis if they are planning to travel to New York City, where an outbreak of cases of the bacterial form of the disease has been reported.

Local health officials made the recommendation a week after their New York counterparts issued a statement that advised all men who have sex with men to be vaccinated, regardless of whether they have HIV. They said the advisory applied especially to those who live in certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

In the past year, 12 cases of meningococcal disease, a severe bacterial infection that affects the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord, had been identified in gay men in New York. Three men were diagnosed there in the last six weeks.

That prompted health authorities to issue an expanded alert. Previously, New York officials said that only men with HIV were particularly at risk of contracting the disease, but the new warning includes all men who have had sex with another man - regardless of HIV status. The new advisory also cautions men who have had contact with men they met through websites, bars, parties or digital apps since Sept. 1.

Although San Francisco has not experienced any increase in cases, public health officials said they want San Francisco residents to be aware of the outbreak.

"We want San Francisco men to know about the New York City recommendations so that they can make good health choices," Dr. Tomas Aragon, San Francisco's health officer, said in a statement. He advised those concerned to talk to their doctor about the vaccination.

The New York cases are unrelated to the nationwide outbreak of a fungal form of meningitis linked to a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy.

Meningococcal disease is spread by contact with spit, mucus or other fluids from the nose or mouth of someone who has the disease, according to health officials. Typically such contact occurs through kissing, sexual activity, sharing cigarettes or utensils, and living in close quarters. Symptoms include a high fever, headache, stiff neck and rash.

Most adults can be protected from the disease through a single injection of the meningitis vaccine, but some people, including those with HIV, may need two injections spaced two months apart. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the vaccine to be 80 to 90 percent effective.

Although the vaccine can help prevent the disease, it is not used to treat it. Even if diagnosed early and treated with antibiotics, the disease can still sometimes cause permanent brain damage, hearing loss, kidney failure or even death.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene singled out parts of Brooklyn because most of the men diagnosed with the disease live in or had sex with men who are from those areas. Those neighborhoods include Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Bushwick, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Dumbo, East New York, Prospect Heights and Williamsburg.

Victoria Colliver is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: vcolliver@sfchronicle.com



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