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UPDATE: Brett Shaad, West Hollywood Lawyer, Brain Dead after Contracting Meningitis

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Sat, Apr 13, 2013 at 2:29 PM

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Updated at the bottom: Shaad family releases a statement about the tragedy.

Shock.

That's what a lot of people in West Hollywood were feeling after hearing the news that Brett Shaad, a gay man and lawyer in his early 30s, was announced brain dead after contracting bacterial meningitis. As of Friday night, the West Hollywood resident remained on life support.

In an eerie and emotional tribute, Shaad's friends were expressing their disbelief and sadness on his Facebook page.

"There are no words that can express what so many of us are feeling right now," wrote Christopher Adam Tobeck from Boston. "Just know that we love you and our love goes out to your family. I'm going to miss your devilish smile as we dance the night away or just pass the afternoon bouncing around the beach or down the street."

The Shaad tragedy and a disturbing meningitis trend among gay men have now become a national story.

As of now, no one knows exactly how the lawyer contracted the disease. Shaad reportedly attended the White Party in Palm Springs a few weeks ago. It's a popular gay "circuit party" that people from around the country attend.

According to news reports, gay men in New York City had previously died from a certain strain of meningitis. West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran warned sexually active gay men in the L.A. area to be cautious.

The Associated Press reports that the disease can be "spread by sex and kissing but not by casual contact."

Dr. Richard Malley, a senior associate physician in medicine at the Children's Hospital Boston, tells the New York Times that the "disease is transmitted through direct contact with respiratory droplets -- small drops of fluid from the nose and throat. This commonly occurs by sneezing, kissing or sharing utensils. Individuals in communal environments -- where there is very close contact -- such as children in day care or young adults living in dormitories, have a higher risk of contracting the infection."

United Press International reports that in March, "the New York City Health Department recommended men having sex with men should be vaccinated for meningitis after four new cases of meningitis among men who have sex with men were reported since the beginning of January -- bringing the total to 17 cases since 2012."

Something is clearly happening in the gay community.

Read the L.A. Weekly cover story "Gay Happiness, the New Frontier," which addresses persistent and alarming health problems among gay men.

The L.A. Times reports that an official at "the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center called on county health officials to make the meningitis vaccine available for free to any gay and bisexual man who wants to receive it."

Duran isn't so sure if Los Angeles County health officials will make that happen quickly.

The councilman told the Associated Press that he plans to introduce an urgency item on Monday to appropriate $20,000 for vaccines for those who can't afford them.

"I think the county health department is dragging its feet and we don't have the luxury of waiting," Duran told the Associated Press.

Dr. Paul A. Offit, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, tells the New York Times that "immunocompromised patients are at an increased risk for all bacterial and viral infections."

He adds, "They are less capable of mounting an effective immune response that rids their body of infection. There are also certain unique risk factors for [bacterial meningitis] -- not having a spleen is one of them."

Shaad's friends are now grieving.

Dario Sanchez wrote from Rome on Shaad's Facebook page: "To my first BF and first ❤I'm in shock and saddened to hear this news, I'm in Italy right now (one of your favorite places) and can't believe it!! Know that u will always have a place in my heart Brett Shaad RIP u will be greatly missed."

Brad Alexander from Los Angeles wrote: "No words to express what so many are going through right now. You touched so many lives my friend and will be greatly missed. Rest now."

Update: In a statement sent to L.A. Weekly, Shaad spokeswoman Elizabeth Ashford says that his family have this "response to inaccurate statements by West Hollywood Councilman John Duran at a press conference on Friday, April 12."

Brian Shaad, Brett's brother, says, "We are horrified by the inaccuracies in Councilman Duran's statements regarding Brett, and his violation of Brett's privacy. Brett remains on life support in the hospital. No conclusions have been drawn regarding when, or how, he may have contracted meningitis. We ask for privacy during this incredibly painful period."

The councilman incorrectly announced on Friday that Shaad had been taken off life support when he was not. Shaad is currently being treated in Los Angeles and his heart is beating, but he has been declared brain dead.

Contract Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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