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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