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L.A. County Meningitis Concerns

meningitis-picThere are concerns that a recent death in West Hollywood may have been from the same strain of meningitis that infected several gay men in New York.

 

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meningitis-picLOS ANGELES — In an effort to quash any fears of a patterned outbreak, Los Angeles County health officials said a fatal case of meningitis discovered earlier this month is not connected to any others across the country.

“Public Health has not identified any other cases of meningococcal disease associated with this patient, nor identified any linkage between this patient and cases being reported in other areas of the country,” according to a news release from the Department of Public Health.

Officials hope the report puts to rest questions about whether the death of a 33-year-old lawyer from West Hollywood, diagnosed with meningitis earlier this month, was connected to a deadly strain of the disease found over the last couple of years in New York City.

The outbreak in New York, primarily among gay men, has infected nearly two dozen people and killed seven in recent years. And the death of West Hollywood resident Brett Shaad, among others late last year, prompted concern among some health advocates that a possible outbreak could have started in L.A. County.

While some called those reports alarmist, West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation pursued the issue aggressively. The AIDS group started offering free meningitis vaccines and called on the county to do the same — as health officials eventually did for low-income and uninsured residents.

Duran said Monday that while the county’s results show there is no current outbreak, he wishes officials would be more proactive about the issue. He wants them to focus on prevention and continue offering free vaccines.

“Someone will die of meningitis in the next three months and it won’t be one of the 3,000” who were recently vaccinated, Duran said.

The county health department describes meningitis as “a rare infection of the lining of the brain and the spinal cord” that is “spread by very close exposure to sneezing and coughing or direct contact with” saliva or nasal mucus. While it is generally rare and harder to catch than the common cold, meningitis can be deadly.

While there can be quite a range from year to year, L.A. County averages 25 cases of meningitis annually, health officials said. In the news release, they said that “even with prompt treatment, the mortality rate is 10% to 15%.”

Symptoms may include a stiff neck, fever, severe headaches, an altered mental state and low blood pressure.

County officials also described how they came to their findings and said they first compared the strain of bacteria from the case in April to others in the county.

While they found that they were all part of a similar subgroup that included some similar cases of men who had a history of sexual contact with other men, they ultimately determined that “a preliminary reading of the genetic fingerprints … shows it is not highly related to other cases in Los Angeles County, Southern California, or New York City.”

The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center also issued a statement and said they were “relieved that the L.A. County Department of Public Health has determined the most recent case of meningitis is unrelated to earlier cases among gay men in New York and Los Angeles and that there is not a meningitis outbreak among gay/bi men here.”

“We’re also pleased that DPH is on high alert and will advise us of any new cases so we can keep the community informed,” said Jim Key of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.

“Bacterial meningitis can be prevented,” Key said. “Those who want to get vaccinated can get information about the shot’s availability, and meningitis, on the center’s website: www.lagaycenter.org.”

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

Los Angeles County health officials on Wednesday began offering free meningitis vaccinations to low-income and uninsured residents while downplaying fears about a potential outbreak of the disease.

“We really sympathize with the heightened concern related to meningococcal disease,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county’s top health officer.

“We hope that by sharing what we know, we’ll alleviate some of the anxiety that has surfaced over the last several days.”

Fielding held a news conference only days after the sudden death of Brett Shaad, a 33-year-old West Hollywood lawyer who was diagnosed with the disease.

Leaders in West Hollywood, which has a significant gay population, were joined by other health advocates in calling on county officials to provide vaccinations and more information about Shaad’s death and any others.

There remains concern among some that Shaad’s meningitis may have been the same strain or very similar to that which infected several gay men in New York City.

Health officials there found a strain that resulted in 22 cases since 2010 that involved men who they said had intimate encounters, including sex, with other men. Seven of those cases were fatal.

In response, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation started providing free vaccines at three of its own locations on Monday and said they have already given more than 1,500.

They were initially critical of the county’s response to the issue and said officials did not do enough to inform residents.

“I think they’ve been a day late on their reaction to this,” said Ged Kenslea of the foundation.

Fielding said that after learning of the developments in New York, officials in L.A. County began collecting data in November 2012 that included whether the cases also specifically involved men who had sex with men.

The disease is not classified as being sexually transmitted but can be spread by close and intimate encounters including kissing, and by sneezing and coughing.

There have been 13 cases of meningococcal disease in L.A. County since then, Fielding said, four of which involved men who had sex with men.

At least two of those were fatal, he said, adding that officials would know by the end of the week if Shaad’s case was indeed somehow connected to those in New York.

Nevertheless, Fielding said the county averages about 25 meningitis deaths each year and that none of the cases since November 2012 had been geographically or behaviorally connected.

He said he understands the public’s concern, but that L.A. County does not have an outbreak on its hands.

“We remain vigilant and on alert and are prepared to deploy all resources at our disposal at the first hint of a meningococcal disease outbreak,” Fielding said.

“But right now we do not have an outbreak of meningococcal disease in Los Angeles County.”

He also wanted to be clear that “this is not a gay disease at all” and said meningitis is most often “random” and “sporadic.”

The vaccines, which Fielding said normally cost between $70 and $130, can be obtained at seven county clinics and hospitals:

Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, the High Desert Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center, Humphrey Comprehensive Health Center, Hudson Comprehensive Health Center and Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center.

Symptoms of meningitis can include fever, stiff neck and severe headaches. Because it can begin much like a case of the flu, the fast-moving illness can be easily overlooked.

Anyone who has been in close contact with a person known to be infected with meningococcal meningitis should immediately contact a healthcare provider to receive appropriate antibiotic treatment.

–Los Angeles Times

WEST HOLLYWOOD (KTLA) — Two more people have died from meningitis, but apparently, the deaths — which occurred in December — weren’t widely reported.

The new revelation comes after the death of West Hollywood attorney Brett Schadd, who died from meningitis over the weekend.

Last December’s victims were 30-year-old Rjay Spoon, from downtown L.A., and a 30-year-old San Diego State University student who lived in Chula Vista.

“His sickness started very suddenly,” said Spoon’s partner, Casey Hayden, at a news conference on Tuesday.

“Friday, he called me and said he was throwing up. Saturday, unresponsive. Sunday he passed away,” Hayden recounted.

Hayden stood alongside Michael Weinstein of Aids Healthcare Foundation and West Hollywood City Council member John Duran.

Duran says the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health failed to tell him about the two deaths in December.

Duran says the county should have been up front with him after Shaad’s recent death.

“It’s really hard for me to alert a community that’s 40% gay that we have a problem in our midst if I can’t get straight answers from the county Department of Health,” Duran said.

According to health experts, if meningitis is caught early, it can be cured. It can also be prevented with a vaccine.

The AHF is offering free vaccines at its two pharmacy locations — one in West Hollywood and the other in Hollywood.

Weinstein says the Department of Public Health has been unresponsive, and he claims they are not doing their job.

“How many people have to die and get sick before we mount the right kind of effort?” he asked.

“It doesn’t seem that we can rouse or get the energy or sympathy we need from the people who our taxes pay to provide this service.”

–Liberte Chan, KTLA News

WEST HOLLYWOOD (KTLA) — The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is offering free meningitis vaccines starting on Monday.

The move comes just days after a West Hollywood man died from the disease.

The AHF will have vaccines available at its men’s wellness center in L.A. and at its pharmacies in Hollywood and West Hollywood. They’re prepared to give out 10,000 doses.

Officials are encouraging anyone who might have been exposed or at risk to make plans to receive the vaccine.

The case of Brett Shaad, a West Hollywood lawyer who died from meningitis, has heightened concerns locally about meningitis dangers.

Shaad, 33, died on Friday within a week of feeling sick.

It’s believed that Shaad got sick after attending the White Party, a gathering that took place in Palm Springs around Easter.

The local case — and other meningitis cases that have struck gay men in New York City — have West Hollywood officials warning residents to take precautions.

There have been 13 cases in New York so far, and seven of them have been fatal.

Heath officials say bacterial meningitis can spread through kissing or from close or prolonged contact with a sick person.

“We’re not saying at this point that we have an outbreak in Los Angeles,” said Michael Weinstein, president of the AHF.

“But we know that this disease is serious, it’s deadly and that it can spread relatively easily.”

WEST HOLLYWOOD (KTLA) — The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is offering free meningitis vaccines starting on Monday.

The move comes just days after a West Hollywood man died from the disease.

The AHF will have vaccines available at its men’s wellness center in L.A. and at its pharmacies in Hollywood and West Hollywood. They’re prepared to give out 10,000 doses.

Officials are encouraging anyone who might have been exposed or at risk to make plans to receive the vaccine.

The case of Brett Shaad, a West Hollywood lawyer who died from meningitis, has heightened concerns locally about meningitis dangers.

Shaad, 33, died on Friday within a week of feeling sick.

It’s believed that Shaad got sick after attending the White Party, a gathering that took place in Palm Springs around Easter.

The local case — and other meningitis cases that have struck gay men in New York City — have West Hollywood officials warning residents to take precautions.

There have been 13 cases in New York so far, and seven of them have been fatal.

Heath officials say bacterial meningitis can spread through kissing or from close or prolonged contact with a sick person.

“We’re not saying at this point that we have an outbreak in Los Angeles,” said Michael Weinstein, president of the AHF.

“But we know that this disease is serious, it’s deadly and that it can spread relatively easily.”

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