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Meningitis hits New York City homosexual population hard

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 21st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Meningitis has been stalking New York City's gay male population over the past two years. The disease, which is often fatal even with treatment, has sickened at least 22 gay men and killed seven others. Amid the alarming statistics, controversy rages over how the disease is spread. Many point to promiscuous activity among gay men, while other point out that meningitis can be spread by kissing, or sharing a toothbrush, a cigarette or even a coffee cup.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - While there has been an outbreak of the meningococcal disease among four gay men in Los Angeles County in recent months, public health officials say that the outbreak in New York is not connected.

The New York City outbreak has been linked to parties, online Web sites or apps that men used to find other men for "close or intimate sexual contact." However - according to other health officials, for more than half of the men sickened by meningitis, there was no evidence that the men had used any of these means to encounter other men.

The meningitis strain linked to all these cases in New York City is part of serogroup C, the same strain that first surfaced when a woman came down with meningitis in New York City back in 2003.

Meningitis worsens and kills rapidly if the sufferer does not seek immediate aid. In New York, "we've had several cases that 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,"  Dr. Jay Varma, the New York City Deputy Commissioner for Disease Control says. 

Meningitis symptoms may resemble the flu, with worsening headache, vomiting, and a sudden high fever. Over hours to days, patients may have difficulty thinking -- and may fall into a coma.

Meningococcal disease, caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis, infects the lining around the brain. Once someone becomes sick, meningitis is always fatal. Even with treatment, up to a third of patients die. There is a vaccine that can prevent illness, and both the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have listed clinics offering free vaccines on their Web sites.

Varma is concerned the outbreak is getting worse. "Normally people think of an outbreak as a lot of people getting sick at one point in time - but here the number of cases is much higher than we normally expect," said Varma.

The rate of meningitis in gay men in New York City has spiked to 60 times higher than their straight counterparts.

While these reports of a strange illness affecting gay men in two major cities may conjure images of the early years of AIDS, experts are quick to note the differences, especially since meningitis infection can be stopped.

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