Deadly meningitis hits gay men in NYC, mass vaccinations recommended

A particularly deadly meningitis outbreak among gay men in New York City has led the city to recommend that every gay man who is basically sexually active, and not in an exclusive relationship, to get a meningitis vaccination pronto.

Per the CDC, “Meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges.”

The alert was issued two weeks ago – I didn’t hear a word about it until yesterday when Michael Broder at the Huffington Post wrote about it.

The New York City Health Department’s recommendation for who should get vaccinated is written a bit oddly, but here goes:

The Health Department issued new recommendations today for vaccinating against invasive meningococcal disease – commonly known as meningitis – after an increase in cases. Vaccinations are now advised for men, regardless of HIV status, who regularly have intimate contact with other men met through a website, digital application (“App”), or at a bar or party.

To me, this means anyone who is gay, sexually active and not monogamous with someone else who is also monogamous.

Disease meningitis

Meningococcus via Shutterstock

New York City’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, notes that “Meningitis symptoms usually come on quickly, and the disease can be fatal if not treated right away.”  An article in yesterday’s NYT notes that while typically meningitis kills one in five people it strikes, this strain kills one in three.

A reader who sent me the Times story remarked, “awfully scary — takes me back to 1982.”  He means the beginning of the AIDS crisis, when gay men in big cities were mysteriously becoming ill.  Hopefully, we’re not facing a new epidemic, but in any case, even though I live in DC, I’m talking to my doctor this week when I go in for my allergy shot.  I recommend some of you do the same.

More from the NYC press release:

Vaccination prevents, but does not treat, current infection. Common symptoms of meningitis are: high fever, headache, stiff neck, and rash that develop rapidly upon onset. Symptoms may occur two to 10 days after exposure, but usually within five days. Meningitis can be fatal if not treated promptly. People who experience these symptoms should seek medical care immediately.

And before the religious right gleefully uses this as justification for why gays shouldn’t be permitted to marry (oh, and they will), perhaps if generations upon generations of gay men weren’t brought up in a society that did not permit them to marry, and a culture that taught them from an early age that they would never find romantic love, and would likely lose the love of their family and friends if they ever found out who they really were, more gay men would be settled down in couples and not prone to getting such diseases that tend to better proliferate when one is not monogamous.  If anything, hatred and bigotry helped fuel this disease more than anything else.

And while NY state now has marriage equality for gays, it’s going to take more than nine months of legalized same-sex marriages to wipe out the psychological damage caused by millenia of intolerance.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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