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NYC Heath Officials Urge Gay, Bisexual Men to Get Meningitis Vaccine

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Thursday Mar 7, 2013
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Officials from the New York City Department of Health are urging gay and bisexual men living or visiting the city to get a meningitis vaccine after an outbreak of a serious and potentially deadly strain of the virus hit the area nearly three years ago, New York City’s CBS-TV affiliate WCBS 880 reports.

Health officials are warning gay and bisexual men, who are at risk of contracting the new strain of meningitis, to get the vaccine as the outbreak among men who have sex with other men has sickened four people this year. In total there have been 17 cases since 2012, according to health officials, and seven people have died since 2010.

"Once you get infected the time from being infected to being horribly sick and possibly dying is very short," Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Jay Varma told the news station. "We’ve had several cases who 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."

Initially, the health department’s warning was for only HIV-positive men but now, officials say all men who have sexual relations with other men they don’t know or meet online, through an app, at a bar or party need to get the meningitis vaccine right away.

"Vaccination is the best defense. I urge all men who meet these criteria - regardless of whether they’re identify as gay - to get vaccinated now and protect themselves from this disease before it is too late," Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said.

Last October, the New York City Health Department urged only HIV-positive men to get the vaccine as all the individuals who were infected were gay men, or men who have sex with men, and eight were HIV-positive. One-third said they used the Internet to hook up with men and the median age for the men was 32.

WCBS 880 notes that the health department says typical symptoms of meningitis are, high fever, headache, stiff neck, and a quickly developing rash upon onset. Symptoms may appear two to 10 days after exposure but usually within five days.

The Gay Men’s Health Crisis sent out a press release about the situation and said the organization will partner up with the New York City Health and Mental Hygiene and the Men’s Sexual Health Project to offer free caccines for meningitis on THursday, March 7, Friday, March 15 and Wednesday, March 20 at the GMHC Center for HIV Prevention at, 224 West 29th Street in Chelsea in New York City.

The release also quoted Jay Varma, MD, the deputy commissioner of Disease Control, who said, "We are very concerned about the outbreak of meningitis among men who have sex with men in New York City. We have identified two groups that are at highest risk of contracting meningitis: HIV-infected men who have sex with men, and any men, regardless of HIV status, who regularly have intimate contact with other men met through a website, digital application (App), or at a bar or party. Vaccination is the best defense against this dangerous infection. We urge men who meet these criteria to get vaccinated now and protect themselves from this disease before it is too late."

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