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It’s well known that many gay men love to travel. Unfortunately, so do diseases.
No, little viruses are not booking tickets on Orbitz, but they do hitch rides. Influenza is a perfect example: Each year new strains of the virus spread around the globe via the movement of infected individuals.
The Los Angeles Times today reports that Brett Shaad, a 33-year-old gay man from West Hollywood, Calif., was sickened with bacterial meningitis:
Officials said that over Easter weekend [Shaad] had attended the White Party in Palm Springs, an annual gathering that draws 8,000 to 10,000 gay men from across the country. After returning, [Shaad] was hospitalized, his health rapidly declined and he was found to have meningitis.
The Times also reports that Shaad has been declared brain dead.
This news follows recent news of meningitis infections and deaths among gay men in New York. On March 6, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene stated that “four new cases of meningitis among men who have sex with men have been reported since the beginning of January, bringing the total to 17 cases since 2012. There have been 22 reported cases – including seven fatal cases – since 2010.”
There is no direct evidence that the cases in New York and the case in West Hollywood are linked; however, officials are saying there are “apparently some similarities.”
Bacterial meningitis infections are not uncommon and certainly not limited to men who have sex with men. In the United States, about 4,100 cases of the illness, 500 fatal, occurred each year between 2003 and 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While contagious, the transmission of meningitis requires close contact, such as kissing. The symptoms of bacterial meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. Typically they develop within 3 to 7 days after exposure. Common symptoms of meningitis are fever, headache and stiff neck. It will often have other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and an altered mental state with an infected person seeming confused.
Meningitis can be fatal. Anyone experiencing meningitis symptoms or has had close contact with someone infected should seek medical assistance.
In New York and West Hollywood, health professionals and LGBT-community leaders are encouraging gay men who are sexually active to be vaccinated.
Meningitis vaccines are available in most travel clinic and many pharmacies.