A few days ago, West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran convened a press conference to warn residents that one of their neighbors had contracted a deadly strain of meningitis, and that the infection could spread.
So far, there’s one known victim: a well-known and beloved resident named Brett Shaad. Large swaths of the city’s gay community are currently in a state of collective shock and mourning, recalling Shaad’s sunny demeanor and devotion to social justice.
Although Duran initially claimed that Shaad had attended the White Party, possibly spreading the illness, that later turned out not to be true. Shaad’s family lashed out at Duran over his inaccurate claims.
Bacterial meningitis is quite serious — it can kill in a matter of hours — but it’s also fortunately rare, and transmission requires close contact like sharing a glass or kissing. Warning signs include stiff neck, headache, nausea and confusion.
A meningitis outbreak in New York has claimed seven lives in the last three years.
Despite only knowing of one isolated case in WeHo, Duran announced plans to set aside $20,000 for immunizations. He later reported that on the first day of the inoculation campaign, 1,100 people stopped by AIDS Health Foundation pharmacies to roll up their sleeves. You can find out more info on meningitis, including where to get vaccinated, at the CDC.
But to provide a little perspective — and maybe bum you out a bit — here are some other, less “exciting” causes of death West Hollywood residents face everyday. Be careful out there, kids.
1. Air Pollution
Los Angeles has the most polluted air in the country, and so the simple act of breathing outdoors causes permanent lung scarring and leads to cardiopulmonary disease. The American Lung Association estimates that LA’s sooty air causes 4,230 premature deaths every year.
The 1994 Northridge earthquake claimed 57 lives. A Kern County quake in 1952 killed 12 people. And upstate, 3,000 people died in the 1906 San Francisco quake and fire.
…or more accurately, HIV/AIDS-related complications. According to LA county, nearly 100 people are diagnosed with HIV in West Hollywood every year. Although the rate of transmission is in decline, it’s still ten times the county average.
4. Car crashes
Car-drivers claimed four lives in West Hollywood in 2009, the last year for which data is available. In previous years, the death toll ranged from 1 (in 2007) to 6 (in 1996), generally concentrated around the treacherous Fountain Freeway.
The rate of smoking in WeHo is 5.3% higher than in LA County overall. Despite a recent legislative push to ban smoking at bars, the City Council granted local businesses some wide exemptions to the ban. As a result, after a trip to The Abbey or Revolver, you might come home reeking of smoke and feeling hoarse.
Oh and by the way, guess who was a major opponent of the cigarette ban? West Hollywood’s very own John Duran.
UPDATE: AIDS Healthcare Foundation has announced that another gay LA resident died of meningitis in December. They also revealed that there was a meningitis death around the same time in Chula Vista, about 130 miles away. It’s unclear if any of the cases are related.