Meningitis outbreak among gay and bisexual men prompts vaccine advisory

The San Francisco Health Department is encouraging gay and bisexual men and transgender people who sleep with men to get the meningitis vaccine.

The San Francisco Health Department is encouraging gay and bisexual men and transgender people who sleep with men to get the meningitis vaccine. Erin Rook

The San Francisco Department of Public Health is urging gay and bisexual men and transgender people who have sex with men, as well as HIV-positive people, to get vaccinated against meningococcal disease, following an outbreak of the rare but serious illness in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

The warning comes on the heels of Friday’s outbreak announcement from the California Department of Public Health and last week’s recommendation from the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that all HIV-positive people get the vaccine.

“Here in San Francisco it is Pride week, with lots of visitors from around the state, the country and the world coming to town to celebrate,” Dr. Naveena Bobba, Deputy Health Officer for the City and County of San Francisco, said Friday. “There will be many parties and festivities. We encourage revelers to consider the meningococcal ACWY vaccine as a way to take charge of their health. The vaccine is widely available and very effective in preventing this disease from spreading.”

Other risk factors include smoking and spending time in crowded spaces—both common activities during Pride season. The health department explains:

Gay men and other men or transgender people who have sex with men who have close or intimate contact with multiple partners, or who regularly visit crowded venues such as bars or parties, or who vape or smoke cigarettes, e-cigarettes, marijuana, hookahs or illegal drugs may be at increased risk of meningococcal disease.  Meningococcal bacteria are transmitted from person-to-person through close personal contact involving secretions from the nose and throat. Smoking or being around smokers increases the risk of transmission.

Vaccines are widely available at doctor’s offices and pharmacies, and at the San Francisco City Clinic for residents who can’t access other options. It typically takes 7-10 days for the vaccine to kick in, and HIV-positive adults are advised to take two doses.

Symptoms of meningococcal disease typically show up a few days after exposure to the bacteria and may include fever, chills, vomiting, severe headache, stiff neck, confusion, rash, nausea or vomiting, and generalized muscle pains. Anyone with these symptoms should seek immediate medical care, especially if they are HIV-positive.

 

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