As San Francisco prepares for a grand LGBT community carnival this weekend, the city has recently received a warning from San Francisco Department of Public Health regarding a possible meningococcal outbreak. The celebration will be host to an influx of visitors from all across the country, all of whom are being advised to get vaccinated for bacterial meningococcal disease. It is feared that this rare but life-threatening disease could take the shape of an outbreak during the pride celebration proceedings, which are scheduled to begin today.

Dr Karen Smith, California Department of Public Health Director and State Office, recently issued a warning identifying an outbreak of invasive meningococcal disease in Southern California,  primarily targeted at adult homosexuals and bisexual men.

Dr Smith said, “We are concerned that gay and bisexual men in Southern California may be at increased risk for meningococcal disease. We encourage men who partner with other men to be aware of the risk of meningococcal disease and consider getting vaccinated.”

The recommended vaccination, named as MenACWY, protects against A, C, W and Y strains of the disease. It is a conjugate vaccine which contains inactivated strains of the bacteria. Immediately after administration of the vaccine, the immune system begins to produce antibodies which are converted to memory immune cells before they act on bacterial exposure.

It is noteworthy that the incidence of meningitis in the US is usually isolated, but in recent years some incidents of outbreak have also been observed, predominantly taking place in the gay community.

The strain, which is found to affect mostly men from the LGBT community, is known as serogroup C. Earlier this year, in the beginning of May, nine cases of meningococcal disease were reported in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, of which most were homosexual men. Six of these cases were confirmed to have been caused by serogroup C, with one victim reported dead.

Surprisingly, serogroup C has been found to be the culprit behind all meningococcal disease outbreaks in the US since 2014. These outbreaks among homosexual and bisexual men, were previously reported in New York City, Los Angeles County and Chicago. The findings are suggestive of additional facts which suggest that HIV-positive gay men were more prone to contracting the disease.  Accordingly, the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has strictly advised HIV-positive people to get vaccinated, who, unlike HIV-negative gay men, need to have the vaccine administered twice.

Transmitted through close contact, bacterial meningitis spreads when a person comes in contact with infected respiratory secretions from the nose and throat.

Though the disease is not specific to the gay community, gay men are at a higher risk of being infected as they have intimate contact with multiple partners and regularly visit community-specific crowded places such as bars and parties. Due to interactions such as exchange of saliva through kissing, sharing cigarettes, beverages and other drugs while staying in one group setting for a longer period, homosexual men are at a higher risk of being infected.

In this case, the spread of disease is also closed linked with the way homosexual or bisexual men socially interact with each another. Dating sites used by members of the gay community posed the most serious problems — it was found that during the last three years, 22 people were infected with meningitis, out of which 7 died. Interestingly, all of the infected used gay dating gays such as Adam4Adam, Scruff and Grindr.

But how does virtual dating pose a threat? The problem lies in the fact that virtual dating is not confined by geographical bounds which leads to the spread of disease from one place to another when online users finally decide to meet. This gives an erratic outlook to the spread of disease which becomes very hard to contain.

In the year 2015 alone, the Chicago metro area experienced an outbreak in June, while Minnesota received a HIV positive case of MSM meningococcal disease in July.

Bacterial Meningitis

Meningitis is a bacterial disease caused by Neisseria meningitides or meningococcus. If a person contracts this bacterial strain, inflammation of membranes covering the brain and spinal cord takes place.  This inflammation is followed by bloodstream infections which may invite aggravated symptoms.

Although the disease in uncommon, it can be fatal, resulting in 10-15% deaths among people who contract the strain. The symptoms of the disease begin to appear in 3-7 days, and are marked by a stiff neck, sensitivity to light, high degree fever, mental disorientation, severe headache and vomiting.  In some cases, skin rash is also followed by the other aforementioned symptoms.

Although antibiotics are found to be effective against the symptoms, as soon as the condition is suspected, one should seek immediate medical help. Immediate prescription of meningococcal medications is very crucial in confining the symptoms to a moderate stage. In order to be protected from future exposure to the strain, meningococcal vaccinations are recommended.

Since bacterial meningitis has become a public health concern in the US, vaccinations are available through most primary care providers and pharmacies. Consequently, it is extremely necessary to spread awareness about the risk of contracting bacterial meningitis and its preventive vaccination in the LGBT community.