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Meningococcal outbreak in Los Angeles and Orange counties triggers health warning

A man’s death was linked to an invasive meningococcal outbreak affecting gay and bisexual men in Southern California, public health officials said Friday.

The rare disease was first identified in May and since then, nine men in Los Angeles and Orange counties have fallen ill with a meningococcal infection, according to Dr. Karen Smith, public health officer for the California Department of Public Health. Most of the men were gay or bisexual. One of them has died from the infection.

“We are concerned that gay and bisexual men in Southern California may be at increased risk for meningococcal disease,” Smith said in a statement.

She urged men who have sex with other men to get a meningitis vaccination. HIV-infected people, she said, have an increased risk of getting sick from meningococcal disease.

The U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended this week that all HIV patients routinely receive meningococcal vaccines.

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, called on public health officials to increase the supply of vaccines and work closely with community health organizations to spread awareness.

The foundation is working to make the vaccines available at Southern California-area wellness centers next week, he said.

“Gay men are extremely over-represented in these meningitis case numbers in Los Angeles,” Weinstein said in a statement. “The CDC and the NIH, in conjunction with local health departments, should really be studying the issue far more intensively.” 

The rare infection is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitides, which affect the bloodstream and can lead to meningitis. At least six cases were caused by a particular strain of meningococcal bacteria.

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Meningococcal disease spreads by close exposure to sneezing or coughing, or direct contact with saliva or nose mucus, the health department said. Symptoms usually begin within a few days of exposure and include fever, vomiting, severe headache, stiff neck, confusion, a rash and muscle pains.

Smoking, having close contact with an infected person such as kissing or sharing beverages or cigarettes and living in group settings for prolonged periods are associated with an increased risk of illness.

Outbreaks and cluster of serogroup C meningococcal disease have been reported in New York City, Los Angeles County and Chicago since 2014.

Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

For breaking news in California, follow VeronicaRochaLA on Twitter.

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UPDATES:

11:21 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein.

This article was originally published at 4:48 p.m.

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