In what the Los Angeles Times is referring to as a meningitis outbreak in L.A.’s gay community, since January 1 there have been eight occurrences of invasive meningococcal disease in L.A. County. Four of those cases have been of gay men, and three of those four have died, officials reported Thursday.
North Hollywood and West Hollywood were identified in the Times report as the areas where the sickened men socialized.
Invasive meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. The bacteria can invade the body and spread to the blood, brain, or spinal cord, causing serious illness like meningitis. It can also cause septicemia, an infection of the bloodstream. The symptoms – including sudden onset of fever, headache, and stiff neck – progress rapidly; even with early and appropriate treatment, patients can die within 24-48 hours.
According to the L.A. Department of Public Health, meningitis can be transmitted by close exposure to sneezing or coughing or direct contact with saliva or nose mucus. Other activities which can increase one’s risk of contracting the illness include smoking, close contact with an infected person such as by kissing, and living in group settings for prolonged periods.
As of Thursday, L.A. County has begun providing free vaccinations for patients without health insurance.