Meningitis Spike Among Gay, Bi Men Leads City to Order Vaccine Doses

New York City may order up to 10,000 vaccine doses to offer to HIV-positive gay and bisexual men. | WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION

While a September 27 alert from New York City’s health department warned of a cluster of four cases of “invasive meningococcal disease” that occurred among the city’s gay and bisexual men in the past four weeks, there have been 12 cases altogether since August of 2010 and four of those men have died.

Among the 12 cases, one occurred in 2010, three occurred in 2011, and eight occurred this year, according to a separate alert that was distributed to health care providers on September 27. The men ranged in age from 21 to 59, and eight were HIV-positive.

“Eight of the 12 cases were known to be infected with the human immunodeficiency virus,” read the health care provider alert. “Five reported using cocaine and/ or crystal methamphetamine. Four reported using Internet sites to meet men for sex. Three cases, however, were not known to be HIV-infected, did not report using drugs, and did not report using Internet sites to meet men for sex.”

Six of the cases were in Brooklyn, three were in Manhattan, two were in the Bronx, and the remaining case was “undomiciled.” The health care provider alert put the “approximate annual incidence rate” of meningitis among men who have sex with men in New York City at 5.4 cases per 100,000 people as opposed to 0.25 per 100,000 among all New Yorkers. The meningitis strain causing the current outbreak is related to a strain that caused an earlier outbreak.

“Genetic analysis suggests that 6 of 7 infections are related to a strain of N. meningitidis that was responsible for the 2006 outbreak in New York City,” read the health care provider alert.

The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reminded health care providers that they are required to report suspected and confirmed meningitis cases to DOHMH.

Meningitis is a common bacteria spread through sustained contact with infected individuals. Most people who are exposed to the bug will not become ill or develop symptoms.

“Examples of prolonged contact include living in the same household or intimate activities, including kissing and sexual contact,” read the alert that was sent to the press. “Common symptoms of meningitis are high fever, headache, stiff neck, and rash that develop rapidly within 2 days.”

People who are exposed, but uninfected can receive antibiotics to prevent infection, and there is a meningitis vaccine. Gay City News has learned that the city will buy 10,000 vaccine doses and launch a campaign to convince HIV-positive gay and bisexual men in New York City to take the vaccine.

A DOHMH spokesperson said the agency would be buying “some” doses, though the number was undecided, and the agency was still trying to figure out how and to whom the vaccine should be given.

[Editor's note: Later on September 28, Alexandra Waldhorn, DOHMH's deputy press secretary, told Gay City News, “We have not purchased 10,000 doses and have not decided to launch a campaign. Both references need to be corrected. If anything changes, we’ll be sure to let you know.”]