The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health says a meningitis vaccine campaign is not needed for gay men in the Los Angeles area, but AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein is still questioning the county's handling of meningitis cases among gay men.
On Friday, Public Health sent out a press release saying that it “has not identified any other cases of meningococcal disease associated with [West Hollywood resident Brett Shaad who tragically died from bacterial meningitis], nor identified any linkage between this patient and cases being reported in other areas of the country.”
As a result, Public Health director Jonathan Fielding does “not recommend a vaccination campaign in response to the present situation of meningococcal disease in Los Angeles County.” Weinstein, whose organization has been offering free meningitis vaccines to gay men in the L.A. area, serves up another opinion.
“We don't know at this time if there have been new cases,” Weinstein tells L.A. Weekly. “We unfortunately have to rely on a public health department that is characterized by parsing words, limiting the flow of information, and denying access.”
Weinstein also pointedly asks, “How quickly are cases reported and what is the threshhold for issuing an alert? Will the affected community be the last to know?”
Public Health and Fielding revealed last week that while it was tracking all meningitis cases in L.A. County over the years, it only started asking about a person's sexual orientation during health investigations in November 2012.
Weinstein pointed out in previous Weekly coverage that when meningitis vaccines were quickly given during outbreaks among gay men in Toronto and Chicago, the disease stopped spreading.
Thousands of gay men throughout the L.A. area have been getting vaccinated in the past week, which may prevent an outbreak here.
Meningitis is not a gay disease. Anyone can get it, although some people — toddlers and college students, for example — are more at risk than others.
But a stubborn outbreak among men who have sex with men in New York City has L.A. gay leaders concerned that deadly meningitis cases could move west, especially since gay men regularly travel between the two cities.
San Francisco health officials have recommended to men who have sex with men there that they should get a meningitis vaccine if they travel to New York City. Although San Francisco has not seen a single meningitis case yet in 2013, health officials are handling the situation cautiously.
Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of Public Health, has not issued a recommendation similar to San Francisco's, even though four cases of meningitis among gay men in the L.A. area have been found since November 2012.
L.A. County, however, is offering free meningitis vaccines to people who want them at seven different health care locations.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.