Health experts are sounding warnings on an outbreak of meningitis- a unique but potentially disastrous bacterial infection among bisexual and gay men throughout Southern California, Los Angeles and Orange county. However, many of the infected are gay people. Meningitis epidemics, an infection of the spinal cord and the lining around the brain, are mostly fatal because the disease develops quickly.
It can also become deadly if not treated within 24 to 48 hours. The meningococcal bacteria can also lead to dangerous blood infection, or sepsis, which has an even higher mortality rates. Meningococcal bacteria are transmitted through the exchange of saliva and spit as a result of prolonged contact, such as through kissing or coughing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the outbreaks often occur in military barracks and school dormitories. The latest infections are part of a regional outbreak of one strain of the bacteria, called serotype C, which began in March this year.
In Los Angeles, 15 cases have been recorded, with 8 of those occurring in gay and bisexual men. Orange county on the other hand accounts to an average of five cases of the infection every year as confirmed by Jessica Good, a spokesman for the Orange county health care agency. On the contrary, there is no medical evidence why meningitis, which is transmitted through swapping saliva, would spread more among gay and bisexual men.
However, Chicago, New York and Southern California have suffered the epidemics disproportionately affecting the population. Dr. Helene Calvert, an epidemiologist with the Health Care Agency, said the cause of the outbreak, and why gay men appear to be more vulnerable, is still a mystery. “That’s a puzzle – we don’t have a good, real answer for that,” Calvert said. “As far as we can tell, none of these patients have known each other or had direct contact with each other. Some have been too crowded venues, others haven’t.” Also, Dr. Rachel Civen, a medical epidemiologist at L.A County’s Department of Public Health said that the case is perplexing. This is because out of the 13 cases of the infection documented in L.A County- excluding Long Beach, which has its own health department- seven were gay men.
In Long Beach, only 12 cases have been recorded this year, half of which are gay men. Even though it’s unclear why gay men are mostly susceptible to the bacterial infection, Public Health officials have hypothesized that the use of online dating platforms to find new sexual partners have aided its transmission. Having multiple sexual partners, anonymous sexual behaviors, sharing drinks and cigarettes are potential risk factors.
Long term meningitis can lead to hearing loss and brain damage. Though most healthy people can harbor the bacteria without becoming sick, but those with weakened immune system, such as those who are HIV positive are more susceptible to infection. In June, the American College of Immunization Practices began recommending all HIV-positive persons obtain the vaccination, based on a research that found those with HIV are 5 to 24 times more likely to be at risk of infection. The vaccination is accessible at an affordable cost or for free at the County Immunization Clinic.
In addition to the vaccine, testing for sexually-transmitted diseases is also available at the Testing, Treatment and Care Clinic, which is located at the same address. In conclusion, research has for several years revealed that there’s a huge disproportion of men who engage in sexual behavior with those who are coming down with meningitis. However, nobody has an explanation as to why yet. Maybe there exists a very simple explanation or a very complicated one both of which has not yet been revealed by the experts. So we just don’t know.
What can you do as a person to minimize the meningitis epidemic?
What could be the meaning of an outbreak among gay men only?