The public health warning was made after L.A. County Department of Public Health officials announced a 33-year-old West Hollywood man contracted the illness. A family spokesman said Brett Shaad was declared brain-dead Friday afternoon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
It was earlier reported that Shaad was dead. The spokesman corrected a statement made earlier in the day by West Hollywood Councilman John Duran who said Shaad had been removed from life support.
Duran held a news conference Friday warning of the potentially deadly health threat because Shaad's case was detected in Los Angeles County.
The illness is spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like spit and can cause meningitis and bloodstream infections. It tends to spread in areas where larger groups of people gather or live in close quarters like college dorms.
According to Dr. Maxine Liggins, symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, headache and stiff neck. Patients suffering from the disease may also feel nauseous, an increased sensitivity to light, and an altered mental status such as confusion.
"We don't want to create panic in the community, but at the same time, we want to alert people that this exists and to be on the lookout for these particular symptoms and to see a physician if you exhibit any of these symptoms," said West Hollywood Councilmember John Duran.
Meningococcal disease is fatal in about 10 percent of cases, but is preventable with a vaccination. Since 2010, the disease has infected 22 people, killing seven.
"This particular strain, if there is no intervention, there is a possibility of severe brain damage and possibly being fatal," said Duran.
The concern surrounding the disease escalated when local public health officials realized the West Hollywood case could possibly be linked to a meningitis outbreak in New York.
"We're very concerned that two weeks ago the White Party in Palm Springs gathered about 8,000 to 10,000 gay men in the city of Palm Springs including from New York," said Duran. "This particular resident was in attendance at the White Party."
People with weakened immune systems such as those living with HIV/AIDS are at an increased risk.
"We learned 30 years ago the consequences of delay in the response to AIDS," said Duran. "We are sounding the alarm that sexually active gay men need to be aware that we have a strain of meningitis that is deadly on our hands."
Vaccinations are not being widely recommended in Los Angeles County. But community agencies such as the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center are urging individuals to take precautions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.