Gay men planning to travel to New York City are being advised by San Francisco public health officials to get vaccinated against meningococcal meningitis.
San Francisco health officials released a health advisory for Bay Area men who have sex with men December 7 to take extra care when traveling to New York City this winter. A meningitis outbreak has infected 12 MSM in the New York City area in the past year, including three individuals within the last six weeks.
The official name of this cluster is invasive meningococcal disease (IMD), a bacterial strain discrete from the recent fungal meningitis outbreak that originated from a Massachusetts pharmacy.
According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, "Three of four IMD cases who died were HIV-infected."
Dr. Susan Philip, director of STD Prevention and Control Services at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, wasted no time in informing the local gay community.
"The symptoms and onset can vary from person to person," Philip told the Bay Area Reporter. "The initial symptoms of IMD can include fever, nausea, muscle aches, headache, confusion, neck stiffness, and body rash. The onset of symptoms is typically rapid, and a healthy person can become very severely ill due to this infection within 24 hours."
What's interesting is that none of the reported cases have popped up in Manhattan but have manifested in various neighborhoods around Brooklyn, including Williamsburg, Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and Prospect Heights, according to a news release from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Philip emphasized that "there have been no cases or increase in cases that have been seen in San Francisco."
Transmission of meningitis is easier than sexually transmitted diseases and its symptoms are more pernicious. Kissing, sharing utensils, sharing cigarettes or drinks, and living in close quarters are all viable ways of passing on this bacterial meningitis, according to the DPH advisory. The serious illness stems from fast-moving bacteria found in saliva or mucus that can infect the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can also cause an infection of the blood. Even if diagnosed early and treated with antibiotics, it can still sometimes result in death, permanent brain damage, hearing loss, or kidney failure, the DPH advisory stated.
For now, health officials in San Francisco suggest that if you are planning to meet a sex partner at a New York City bar or club or via an online hookup site, that you consider getting vaccinated for IMD, especially if you are HIV-positive.
Men can ask their primary care physicians about the vaccination or Philip said that people can purchase the vaccine at the health department's Adult Immunization Clinic.
"The vaccine is either given by an injection just under the skin of the arm or in the muscle," Philip said. "Either way, the vaccine is generally well tolerated."
According to the DPH advisory, most adults gain protection with a single injection of the meningitis vaccine. Some adults, including those with HIV or other causes of weakened immune function, are recommended to receive a total of two injections of the vaccine spaced two months apart, in order to achieve protection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccination is 80 percent to 90 percent effective in preventing meningococcal disease.