LA County health officials address meningitis concerns


Health investigators hope to find out by the end of this week if any of the cases in Los Angeles County are linked to outbreaks in New York and Chicago.

Los Angeles County health officials said they have had 13 cases of meningococcal meningitis disease in the last five and half months, but that's no higher than average.

"Four of these were in men who have sex with men. None of these cases have been geographically or behaviorally linked. We can't be sure they're not, but we've looked hard and we have not found specific linkage," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The four cases include the recent death of 33-year-old West Hollywood lawyer Brett Shaad.

"It's not sexual orientation that cause risk, its behaviors that cause risk," said Fielding. "What are the behaviors? You know, intimate contact with a lot of different people even though it's not sexually transmitted, sharing bottles...sharing things."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines an outbreak as three cases known to be linked occurring within three months. Fielding says so far this does not appear to be an outbreak. But investigators do say the bacterial strains in some of the cases had similarities.

"The strains have overlap and are related, but we don't know what that necessarily means," said Fielding.

To address concerns, the L.A. County Department of Health Services will begin providing free meningitis vaccines to low income and uninsured residents at several county clinics.

In two days, about 1,500 people have lined up to receive free meningitis vaccinations from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

"This meningitis vaccine is very well-tolerated. It can be given to people who have immune suppression, even pregnant women," said Dr. Kimberly Sommers with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

The survival rate for bacterial meningitis is about 15 percent with treatment, so doctors are urging anyone who has concerns about exposure to get the vaccine.

In Los Angeles County, there are about 25 cases of meningitis each year. Symptoms include fever, neck stiffness, confusion, rash and severe headache. If you have any of these, it's important to get to your doctor immediately for treatment with antibiotics.

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