Back in 2013, New York City, along with other gay meccas, started to see the beginning of a meningitis outbreak. Gay Male Health Crisis (GMHC) Board Member, Demetre Daskalakis, MD took the helm and spearheaded the large outreach program to immunize gay males in the region. We were guys who personally received shots by the good doctor, pictured on the left.
Years later, meningitis is back and we have to start from scratch educating some of you about this very dangerous illness. Southern California, New York and Chicago are now centralized pockets for gay males to contract this disease. The Los Angeles Blade did the background research and reported that “despite an ongoing outbreak among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Southern California, only 27 percent of MSM in Los Angeles County report getting the vaccine, and an additional 29 percent don’t know if they have been vaccinated”.
Meningitis is a particularly nasty illness. Depending on the strain, up to 70 percent of those who are infected can die. In addition, meningitis can lead to loss of limbs, hearing impairment, and central nervous system and kidney failure. One in five survivors of meningitis experience serious lifelong health issues.
The good news is that we have a vaccine that is 85 percent to 100 percent effective in preventing four strains of meningitis; it is known as “quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine,” or MCV4. It is available for free at Los Angeles County Public Health Department clinics and from community-based health care organizations such as APLA Health, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
If you don’t live in LA or NYC, where GMHC is still providing free vaccines, we strongly suggest you check your area for gay health organizations to see if they are part of this outreach program, if not, contact your healthcare provider and explain that you need to be vaccinated.
Meningitis is transmitted through intimate contact—but not as intimate as you may think. Coughs and sneezes from an infected person carry the pathogen. Gay men are vulnerable in the places we socialize, such as bars, clubs, parties, gyms. And it is not necessarily about sexual behavior. You can get meningitis simply by sharing a drink or a cigarette.
For people living with HIV, meningitis can be especially dangerous. For this reason, experts recommend two doses at least eight weeks apart for people living with HIV. In our study, only 26 percent of men who were HIV-positive had received two doses.