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Despite outbreak, L.A.-area gay men not getting meningitis vaccination, study shows

LOS ANGELES — Despite a year-long outbreak of meningococcal meningitis that has been primarily impacting gay and bisexual men, less than 27 percent of the men living in Los Angeles County have been vaccinated against it, according to a study.

The findings from the California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center — a collaboration between UCLA, the Los Angeles LGBT Center and APLA Health — call for more immunization access points throughout Southern California and increased public education about the disease.

MENINGITIS SYMPTOMS, TRANSMISSION

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Invasive meningococcal meningitis is often characterized by the sudden onset of high fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, rash, stiff neck and confusion, which can lead to  septic shock and death if the person is not treated quickly.

Meningococcal meningitis is transmitted through saliva or spit and can be spread by coughing on someone, kissing or sharing cigarettes. The risk for infection increases in crowded places, such as bars or parties. 

“Primary care doctors who treat gay and bisexual men and HIV-positive people should talk to their patients about the ongoing outbreak and make sure they receive the full recommended dosing,” Phil Curtis, director of government affairs at APLA Health, said in a statement.

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OUTBREAKS

The most recent outbreak started in March 2016, and as of March 9, 27 cases of meningococcal meningitis have been reported in Southern California. A majority of the cases have been among gay men, and two cases have been in HIV positive men, the study found.

This outbreak follows another in  2014 that killed three gay men.

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THE STUDY

The study is titled Vaccination Response to an Ongoing Meningitis Outbreak: Uptake and Attitudes among Men Who Have Sex with Men in Los Angeles.” Ian Holloway, an assistant professor of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and teams of researchers visited venues throughout Los Angeles County and surveyed more than 500 gay men.

Despite the outbreak and vaccination recommendations from the California Department of Public Health, the majority of respondents were not protected against meningitis, the study found.

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People living with HIV are at particular risk for developing serious health issues if they infected with meningitis and are recommended to receive a two-dose series of vaccination. The study found, however, that few HIV-positive individuals had received those doses.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Immunization Program has distributed free vaccines, but researchers concluded that more needs to be done.

RECOMMENDATIONS

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  • Increasing outreach via social media and apps gay men use regularly and at bars and nightclubs
  • Educating providers who treat gay and bisexual men.

 

Despite a year-long outbreak of meningococcal meningitis that has been primarily impacting gay and bisexual men, less than 27 percent of the men living in Los Angeles County have been vaccinated against it, according to a study.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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