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Amid outbreak, health officials want more gay men vaccinated for meningitis

meningitis vaccinations
Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, seen earlier this month, urged all gay and bisexual men in L.A. and Orange counties to receive meningitis vaccinations, expanding on an earlier warning.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Health officials in Los Angeles and Orange counties are recommending that all gay and bisexual men receive meningitis vaccinations, amid an outbreak of the potentially fatal disease disproportionately affecting men who have sex with men. 

Local health departments were previously recommending vaccinations only for people considered high-risk, such as men who are HIV positive. 

“We acknowledge this broadens our prior recommendations, but, after careful consultation with the CDC and health officers in other affected jurisdictions, we consider that this expansion of the vaccination recommendations is a necessary step to suppress this outbreak,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser,  L.A. County Interim Health Officer, in a statement Tuesday.

In L.A. County, there have been 13 meningitis cases this year, not including those in Long Beach and Pasadena which have their own health departments. Seven of L.A. County’s cases were men who have sex with men.

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The L.A. County health department only reported 12 meningococcal disease diagnoses in all of 2015 and only one of those identified as a gay or bisexual man, according to county officials.

Health officials are unsure why gay men are being disproportionately affected by this outbreak. 

Invasive meningococcal disease is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, which is spread by saliva through close contact such as kissing, coughing or sharing drinks.

Meningitis symptoms begin quickly and include nausea, vomiting and confusion. If not treated, the infection can cause brain damage, seizures or can kill within a few hours.

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Times staff writer Hailey Branson-Potts contributed to this report.

soumya.karlamangla@latimes.com

Twitter: @skarlamangla

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