NYC Dep’t Of Health Warns Gay Men Of “Terrifying” Meningitis Outbreak, Urges Vaccination

MeningitisMen who have sex with men are at risk for a potentially deadly strain of meningitis, warns the New York City Department of Health, which is urging gay and bisexual men to get vaccinated against the virus.

Health-department officials first made an announcement about the outbreak in September:

The Health Department is currently investigating a cluster of invasive meningococcal disease, commonly known as meningitis, among gay men and men who have sex with men.

Invasive meningococcal disease is a severe bacterial infection that has a high fatality rate.

Within the past four weeks, there have been four cases; one died and one person is in critical care. The cases are spread across several boroughs and among men ages 31 to 42 years old.

At that time, the warning was primarily for HIV-positive men, as the four infected men were all HIV-positive. But now they’ve widened their net, saying “all men who are intimate with other men they’ve met on a website or an app or at a bar or a party need to get vaccinated now.”

Some 17 cases have been reported locally since 2012, and seven deaths have attributed to the disease since 2010.

Symptoms of meningitis—which include high fever, headache, stiff neck and rash—can appear as quickly as two days after exposure.  “The time from being infected to being horribly sick and possibly dying is very short,” Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Jay Varma told WCBS 880. “We’ve had several cases who have been actually found dead in their apartment before they’d even gone to see a medical provider. So that is, to us, absolutely terrifying.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley says vaccination is the best defense: “I urge all men who meet these criteria – regardless of whether they’re identify as gay – to get vaccinated now and protect themselves from this disease before it is too late.”

If you live in New York, find the nearest clinic with the Health Department’s Site Locator.

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  • Caine

    I am utterly gobsmacked that the NYC Department of Health is sending out another issuance to instill fear in sexually active gay men everywhere. I am HIV+ and I asked my doctor in January if I should get this vaccine – his response? No. The cases they cite were guys not on HIV meds who did heavy intravenous drugs and had no medical care and at the first warning signs of illness did not seek medical care. This is almost as heinous as the SF Department of Health issuing a warning in December to get the vaccine if you were going to travel to NY for the holidays.

    Let’s put it another way…
    These vaccines cost money and someone is going to pay for them.

  • the other Greg

    “all men who are intimate with other men they’ve met on a website or an app or at a bar or a party need to get vaccinated now.”

    Gee, they make it sound so low class! So if you meet a flirty waiter at a classy restaurant, or you meet at a 12-step meeting or at a Unitarian gay church social, or your eyes meet across a crowded Second Avenue bus, you’re in the clear? No doubt those West Side and outer borough buses are full of, like, germs and stuff, ewww.

    @Caine: You’re probably right, there’s $$$ involved.

  • viveutvivas

    I don’t think they are maliciously trying to instill fear, since once you have had the vaccine, you don’t have to worry about it any more.

    Really, guys, it is not all about you. These officials have better things to do than purposely plan malicious evil anti-gay plots.

  • the other Greg

    @viveutvivas: For one thing, meningitis is not usually sexually transmitted, and they’re awfully vague about what kind of sex – except of course (undefined, icky) gay male sex – is the factor.

    I don’t know if NYC has the money to hand out FREE vaccinations for this but I’m guessing no. (They probably have their hands full enforcing the soda laws.)

    Caine merely says he asked his doctor if he should get the vaccine and his doctor says “no.” There are reasons to be dubious about the hysteria.


    It would be interesting to learn about these men’s background. I thought that a meningitis vaccine was required for staying in college dorms. I’m sure that a lot of men in NYC have lived in a dorm while pursuing higher education. Wouldn’t a signifigant portion of New Yorker’s more than likely not have to worry?

  • MUSAorg

    The Meningitis Foundation of America (MFA), a national organization, would like the public & media to know that information is available regarding the diagnosis, treatment & prevention of meningitis. MFA was founded in 1997 by parents whose children were affected by meningitis. In addition to supporting vaccination & preventing meningitis, the MFA provides information to educate the public & medical professionals so that the early diagnosis, treatment &, most important, prevention of meningitis, will save lives. Meningitis is a dangerous & often times fatal inflammation of the brain &/or spinal cord that can leave survivors with serious life-long physical problems MFA would like to be considered as a news resource for the disease. For further information, visit the MFA website at www musa org.

    Thank you,
    Box 1818
    El Mirage AZ 85335
    480 270 2652
    World Meningitis Day 24 April 2013
    www comoonline org

  • boring

    Smile on mighty Jesus.
    Spinal Meningitis’ got me down.

  • Brian

    Meningitis does not discriminate between gay and straight. Why, then, is the New York City Department Of Health pointing to male-male contact only? What about female-female or male-female contact?

    I don’t mind if the Department uses the word ‘promiscuous’ as a risk factor but for it to specify male-male contact as a risk factor is pure homophobic sexism. It’s pure homophobic sexism on the part of the Department.

  • viveutvivas

    @the other Greg, @Brian, I doubt this is motivated by homophobia, so maybe take a deep breath and get off your high horses. They are making these recommendations based on the epidemiology of the cases they have had. The fact is that this has spread among a number of gay men, not straight people. So far a small number, but would you seriously prefer them NOT to inform us about this? Before you reply, think about the early 80s, when another strange new disease started spreading between gay men in NY and San Fran – if you lived there then, what would you have wanted authorities to do, and do you think it would have been homophobic or hysteric for them to warn gay men as early as possible. If only they had…

    Basically they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t, but thinking back to 30 years ago, I think for very good reason they think it is better that they do.

  • tidalpool

    Good Lord, you have to be both brave and strong to be a queer! More warnings, another disease, and anti-biotic resistant diseases are popping up all over. I am so bloody fortunate I opted for monogamy, and delighted to say my partner felt as I do. I would not want to be young, promiscuous and with out good medical coverage. its like ice skating on razer blades being gay. Who says we are weak???

  • Caine

    my problem is
    – unless I am reading this wrong
    – they are issuing a second warning based on something that happened six months ago.
    i would be far less irritated if the warning said there was an outbreak in Sept 2010 and since then there hasn’t been
    – as it is – they are making it sound like the outbreak happened in the last 4 weeks.
    the vaccine costs $350.
    @viveutvivas – my point exactly.
    hasn’t the gay community had enough fear instilled into it?
    I am old enough to remember the 1991 is HIV in saliva scare.

  • viveutvivas

    @CAine, I am old enough too, but some scares are real (like the original 1980s HIV scare) and I think it is better to inform people than stay silent. What if they stayed silent and another epidemic took off? Can you imagine the ramifications (legal and otherwise) that these officials would be subject to if that happened?

  • the other Greg

    @viveutvivas: Yes, but they’re essentially saying, Stop having gay sex! It’s dangerous!

    It sounds more than a little homophobic. Can they be more specific? Is it just the “intimacy” that’s the factor? Non-sexual, as with college dorms or the military, etc. Or for that matter, crowded NYC subway trains. Or is it something else? What, exactly, except that icky “gay” stuff?

  • viveutvivas

    @the Other Greg, no they are not saying “stop having gay sex”. They are saying, think about getting vaccinated if you are going to be having gay sex with strangers.

    Believe me, I am on the side of gay sex, but this is making a mountain over a molehill. If you want to protest New York’s treatment of gay sex, why not bring up the ridiculous rules they impose on gay sex clubs/saunas, where my boyfriend and I got yelled at by the management for leaving open the door of the little room while making out.

  • Colorado_JPM

    Did anyone notice that the beginning of the article mentions “the virus”, but the rest of the article talks about bacterial meningitis?

    I had viral meningitis when I was a kid. I was very, very sick and stayed in the hospital for a week.

    Bacterial meningitis is different. If not resulting in death, it often results in amputation of one or more limbs, due to septicemia and necrosis. There was a big outbreak of bacterial meningitis in England, when I was stationed there in the 90’s. Several children and teenagers had one or multiple amputations, if they survived in the first place.

    So, Queerty….Viral or bacterial – which is it?

  • Serious Callers Only

    The cases discussed were all caused by Neisseria meningitidis serotype C, a bacterium.

    “The cases they cite were guys not on HIV meds who did heavy intravenous drugs and had no medical care and at the first warning signs of illness did not seek medical care.”

    Right, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of January 4, 2013 8 of the 18 men were not on HIV meds.

    That’s because they were not HIV-positive.

    I could not find any information on intravenous drug use among those patients.

    As to the “at first warning signs of illness did not seek medical care”:

    The first warning signs of the illness are similar to flu, for which you typically do not seek medical care. The disease can then rapidly progress leaving the patient with an altered mental state or otherwise incapacitated. Patients living alone are especially vulnerable.

    Patients can go from being ok, to being dead in 24-48 hours and there’s even a case report of a person dead withing 17 hours after the onset of symptoms.

    @ the other Greg and Brian:

    Transmission happens via contact with “oropharyngeal secretions”, such as by kissing and to airosols produced by coughing.

    Health officials clearly believe that there are several carriers among the NY MSM population. Vaccination would not only prevent disease in MSM kissing with such carriers, but also help to eliminate carriers from the population.

  • drdemarco

    Anyone see this?

    The comments are priceless.

    My issue is this:

    Why target gay guys who meet in bars and on apps. This is not an STD, as other posters have already mentioned. And why be so freaking sex-shamey about it? Like straight people don’t hook up on apps? What if I kiss a boy after church, then go home where I share my tiny NYC apartment with my pregnant (immuno-compromised) straight roommate? She shouldn’t get vaccinated?

    And if there’s a vaccination, why not just encourage everyone to get it? Like… I got the damned flu vaccination this year (which apparently was a dud, but whatever). So targeting gay men (originally, gay, HIV positive Williamsburg men) who meet on apps or in bars- something just seems weird about it.

    I’m glad the Queerty commentors haven’t been as silly as the ones on HUFFPO, but like- seriously- people meet up and have sex- not just gays- and this isn’t an STD, so what, we can’t even kiss now?!

    I guess I’m getting the vaccine, because there is one, and I’m one of those dirty Williamsburg gays.

Comments are closed.