Gay meningitis scare hits LA. Advocates blast city’s “indifference” after 4 infections revealed.

In a rather disturbing development, the city of Los Angeles revealed Tuesday that four gay or bisexual men in Los Angeles have contracted meningitis over the past four months – two of whom died.

Health care advocates immediately blasted the city’s “indifference” towards the issue, especially now that the LA cases have been linked to an ongoing deadly outbreak in New York City.  From the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, moments ago:

“While AHF applauds the County for offering the vaccine to low-income and uninsured residents, we are disappointed that the L.A. County Public Health Department is not urging people to get vaccinated. We believe it shows an insensitivity to the population involved and to the understandable concerns they have,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “How many deaths will there need to be before the County will acknowledge these incidences as an outbreak? The County has known since December and has done nothing to alert the community. The fact that these cases have been shown to be linked to the outbreak in New York should have set off alarm bells, but the L.A. County Public Health Department remains indifferent.”

I’d reported earlier on growing concerns out of New York City about a particularly deadly meningitis outbreak there among gay men.  (I also interviewed the CDC and did a good backgrounder on the outbreak, about how its transmitted, and whether gay men in other cities should get vaccinated.)

According to Jonathan Fielding, the director of the Los Angeles Public Health Department, there is an 85% overlap between the strain they found in 3 of the men in LA and the deadly strain that’s been causing problems in NYC.  They do not yet have the results of the strain that infected the 4th man in LA.  I’m going to talk to the CDC to find out what that 85% really means.  At the very least, it sounds like the 3 cases in LA are related to each other, which right there raises some concern.

Karen Ocamb reports that the city of Los Angeles also revealed that it doesn’t have any data on how many gay or bi men were infected before November of 2012 because LA only started tracking sexual orientation data last November.  Why not earlier?  Who knows.

So, in four months in Los Angeles, 4 gay/bi people get meningitis. And the city is basically coerced to release this information publicly. Extrapolate that over a year and you get 12 cases, hypothetically. In NYC last year there were how many cases among gay men that caused the CDC to declare an “outbreak”? 13.

Not to mention, three of the cases appear to have happened within the same 3-week period this past December and January.  That’s certainly statistically interesting, to the say the least.

New York City has been issuing warnings going back to last fall, yet Los Angeles is dragged kicking and screaming to release this information, and says, flicking its hair insouciantly, they just don’t have any data for any of the infections before this past November – sorry.  (Are they even planning on looking into the old cases before November of 2012?  People do have telephones, and anyone who’s died has immediate family or friends.)

Karen also quotes AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein with an interesting observation:

Weinstein noted that in 2001, in Toronto, “2 out of 6 gay men died of meningitis and Toronto did 3,850 vaccines. In 2003, in Chicago, 3 in 6 infected gay men died from the disease and they did 14,267 vaccines. So I think we’re past that threshold now and there is really no excuse for inaction at this point.“

With four cases in the past four months, and a 50% death rate, it’s not at all unreasonable to wonder if LA had 12 deaths over the past 12 months, putting its total number of cases far beyond Toronto or Chicago, and basically equal to New York where dire health care warnings have been coming out for months.

Having said that, LA health officials claim they’ve been unable to find a connection between the men infected, other than the fact that they were gay.  Well, perhaps if they’d look at people infected prior to only five months ago, they might do a better job finding a connection, if there is one.  And there may not be one – in which case, even 12 cases wouldn’t be similar to NYC, where they did find a connection between their 13 gay cases.

But… given the fact that LA didn’t think of tracking the sexual orientation of those infected before five months ago, confidence is not running high in any of their “conclusions.”

I’m with Karen on this one.  Los Angeles’ response to this meningitis outbreak sounds awfully pathetic, still.

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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  • RilkeanHeart

    What are the symptoms?

  • BinCali

    For the record, AHF has a multimillion dollar lawsuit pending against the LA County Public Health Dept because LA County had the audacity to audit AHF and discover that AHF has been fraudulently billing the county’s federal HIV/AIDS monies (Ryan White) for millions of dollars every year for services that AHF was already paying from other sources of funds. AHF is also now promoting a ridiculous ballot measure (after their condoms-in-porn measure won overwhelmingly) to splinter off public health services for the city from the county dept, at a time when the city is swimming in a $200million deficit. The lawsuit and the ballot measure are just levers for them to continue to fraudulently grab millions of federal HIV/AIDS monies without consequence. While I do appreciate the public health need here, AHF is hardly the selfless advocate you portray them to be, John. They’re a multimillion-dollar global operation that relies on big money from HIV/AIDS medications and, apparently, fraudulent billing practices in order to boost their bottomline, all under the image of being a do-gooder nonprofit. They do provide services to a lot of people, but their motives deserve better scrutiny then offered here.

  • Sweetie

    Agreed. HPV is nasty and very easy to catch. Getting cancer isn’t worth it.

  • Skeptical Cicada

    Now, now. L.A. has its hands full trying to make sure that every penis in an adult film shoot has a condom on it. They don’t have time for public health concerns.

  • Meanie.


  • Drew2u

    There was a pertussis scare on my dorm floor when I was in college a few years’ back. As far as I know, the transmission is the same with pertussis and meningitis – cups, silverware, toothbrush, etc. I’m in the central midwest and there’s been at least one meningitis case nearby-ish during this current scare. I remember the meningitis scare a few years back – also when I was going to college.
    As a rural person, my options that don’t have me driving 45+ miles are sort of limited.

  • I tell Disqus to occasionally eat your comments just to keep your young and agile ;-)

  • Who knows. As I said, wherever you get the shot, ask them to not record your name.

  • Shouldn’t affect your insurance – especially if you ask whoever gives you the shot not to write it down in your record – insurance isn’t paying for it anyway. HPV is far more expensive, each shot is the price of the meningitis vaccine – and you need 3 shots. Having said that, if you’re young and gay, I’d save your money and get the HPV vaccine. IMHO, far more important (depending where you live – if you’re in NYC or LA, maybe you get the meningitis).

  • Yeah, having 3 gay cases in 3 weeks should have put everyone on higher alert, especially when this was already happening NYC at the same time, and there had been a previous “gay” outbreak in Chicago ten years.

  • Drew2u

    /I/ know that, I just wonder if any healthcare provider would be so homophobic as to up insurance rates if someone would proactively ask for such vaccines.
    (but I do appreciate your clarification!)

  • nicho

    It’s not a gay-only disease, but meningitis usually occurs in discrete communities — colleges, schools, whatever. This strain happens to be affecting the gay community, but anyone could be at risk.

  • nicho

    Actually, meningitis is not necessarily an “anonymous bathhouse sex” disease. It’s orally transmitted and can be contracted from tasting your best friend’s Appletini or sipping from the same communion cup as an infected person. Oral sex is not -a transmission route.

  • d3clark

    If you’re interested in getting the vaccine, talk to your local county health department. They may be offering it at low or no cost. Info on state and local health departments can be found here:

  • Naja pallida

    I’m not so sure local health departments really keep up on issues coming from other localities, so unless the CDC or DHHS uses their power at the federal level to inform and educate, things have more of a tendency to stay limited. One of the many problems we have with lack of communication between federal, state and municipal agencies.

  • Drew2u

    That’s easily a third of a paycheck for me. Granted a vaccine is better than dying, but that’s not saying a lot.
    I’m sexually mature but not really active. Would getting this or the HPV vaccine be cause for my health insurance coverage to go up? Do they make a distinction between prevention for the “just in case” and prevention for the, “I have anonymous bathhouse sex as an afternoon hobby”?

  • d3clark

    Looks like LA should have been much more alert and started looking for MSM cases quite a while ago. Also, the three cases clustered around mid-Dcember early January should have sparked some interest. They said that they didn’t find any connection other than those infected were gay. Based on their laid-back approach, I wonder just how diligent their investigation was.

  • Yeah that was my feeling. There’s always a small risk from any vaccination, I believe, but I still got it.

  • FunMe

    I will be looking for a place close to me in the LA beach area to get the shot. Or in Hollywood/WeHo.
    Better safe than sorry.

  • nicho

    I don’t know. I have pretty good coverage, and if I owe anything, I’ll get a bill later. I’ll keep you posted. For the record, I called my pharmacy to see if they had the vaccine, and they said they couldn’t get any from their supplier.

  • The ghost of Reagan

  • Hmmm.

  • Should be $150 to $200. Was $160 I think at my doc in DC

  • Sounds like from what John wrote above, your doctor received inaccurate information from your local health department.

  • Drew2u

    How much was it, the vaccine, with/out coverage?

  • nicho

    This is disturbing because I saw my doctor on Monday and asked about the vaccine. He called the health department while I was there and they said because it was only one case, they weren’t calling it an outbreak. He gave me the vaccine anyway.

  • I tried to post a comment the other day, but Disqus ate it, in which I expressed feelings of deja vu.

    I still maintain the CDC and state-level health organizations are making a mistake by allowing this outbreak to be ID’d as a ‘gay-only’ disease. In the 1980s, it was just barely but increasingly acceptable to come out as gay. Nowadays, more identify as Bi than ever before, and as a consequence, the jump out of the gay male population is all but inevitable.

    What they ought to be doing is contacting everyone who has been or is currently in close contact with the known victims and urging vaccination and observation.

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